The Master and Apprentice Act 1865 was one of the first pieces of New Zealand labour legislation. It made provision for any child over 12 years of age to be indentured in any art, trade, or manual occupation for a period of up to five years. The Act was particularly designed to facilitate the indenturing of children from orphanages and other charitable institutions. An enabling rather than a protective measure, it made no provision for the prescription of terms and conditions or the supervision of apprenticeship contracts. A Royal Commission of 1890 found little use being made of the Act. Following the passage of the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894, conditions to govern apprenticeships began to be written into awards and industrial agreements. Contracts of apprenticeship made under the Master and Apprentice Act (which was re-enacted in 1908) and subject to conditions prescribed under the I. C. and A. Act became more popular, and until 1923 apprenticeship was governed through the conjoint use of the two Acts – the one to establish and safeguard the contract; the other to prescribe the conditions to be fulfilled within the contract.
In 1923, following a conference on apprenticeship, the Apprentices Act 1923 was passed. Provisions as to apprenticeships were no longer to be incorporated in awards and industrial agreements, but the Court of Arbitration was empowered to make special orders governing apprenticeships in particular industries or trades. Control over apprenticeship rested with the Court, but registration and enforcement functions were in the hands of a Registrar of Apprentices and District Registrars, and general supervision was substantially delegated from the Court to district apprenticeship committees. The Master and Apprentice Act 1908 and the Apprentices Act 1923 continued to govern apprenticeship in New Zealand until 1948.
In 1944 the Government set up a Commission of Inquiry into Apprenticeship and Related Matters which reported in November of the same year, although it was not until 1946 that legislative action was taken on the findings. (The Commission's report was published in the Appendix to Journals of the House, 1945, H. 11B .) Provision was made for a Commissioner of Apprenticeship, for a New Zealand Apprenticeship Committee for each industry or group of allied trades, for district commissioners, and for the continuation of local apprenticeship committees. The Court of Arbitration was empowered to make apprenticeship orders only for New Zealand as a whole on the recommendations of New Zealand apprenticeship committees which consist of representatives of employers and workers, together with a person conversant with technical education and the Commissioner of Apprenticeship as chairman. The legislation was consolidated in 1948 into the current Apprentices Act.
Local apprenticeship committees are constituted like New Zealand committees, but with the district commissioner or his deputy as chairman. No employer may engage an apprentice without the prior consent of the appropriate local committee which, if need be, will inspect the work place. Local committees deal with complaints from apprentices or employers, and with applications for transfer of apprentices, and for discharge on account of misconduct. Their decisions are subject to appeal to the Arbitration Court.
The New Zealand committees are policy-making bodies. Proposed amendments of apprenticeship orders are often referred by them to local committees for comment before the New Zealand Committee comes to a decision. Most orders have an apprenticeship period of 10,000 hours, with modifications to allow for educational qualifications. It is usual for orders to provide for attendance at technical classes, both during working hours and in the evening. In some industries technical training is concentrated into an annual full-time (“block”) course of three or four weeks' duration.
At 31 March 1965 there were 32 New Zealand committees and 223 local committees in existence. There were 23,684 contracts of apprenticeship then in force and 6,870 new contracts had been registered during the preceding 12 months. During 1965 there were 2,699 apprentices attending day classes, 6,064 attending evening classes, 10,098 attending “block” courses, and 4,624 taking technical correspondence courses.