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Labour shortage and the end of war

Critical labour shortage

During 1940, Bevin was unwilling to assume control of the direction of labour, but by early 1941 the shortage of skilled labour was critical. The Essential Work (General Provisions) Order of March 1941 required all skilled workers to register. The Ministry was able to prevent them from leaving jobs designated as essential, such as munitions, mining and agriculture. Another means of solving the skilled labour shortages was the dilution of skills through the abolition of trade practices and restrictions. Unions were traditionally opposed to this, but Bevin was able to suspend trade practices by promising to restore them after the war in the Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act of 1942.

In the war years, unions became closely involved in government of the economy. In 1942, the Ministry of Production was established and set up production boards across the country. Consultative committees at factory level provided a means through which workers could advise management on improving productivity.

Cooperative industrial relations were encouraged by the government's cautious approach to wage restraint. In 1941, the White Paper 'Price Stabilisation and Industrial Policy' called for restraint, but little was done to hold wages down. The government sanctioned wage increases when directing labour to low-paid essential industries. Bevin pushed through the Catering Wages Act of 1943 to establish wage determination in an industry that had not been effectively unionised. The Wages Council Act of 1945 established councils to determine wages in individual industries.

During April 1944, there were a number of unofficial strikes in the coal industry. The government responded with Defence Regulation 1AA, which imposed a maximum five-year jail sentence and fines of up to £500. Although the number of unofficial strikes continued to rise into 1945, the government never implemented sanctions.

End of the war

By the end of the war, trade unions had grown substantially and were nearer government. The system of voluntary collective bargaining on wages and conditions had survived the rigours of wartime conditions. These factors were important influences on the nature of relations between government, unions and employers in the post-war period and the corporate state.