Semiskilled or unskilled workers who move from one region to another, offering their services on a temporary, usually seasonal, basis. In North America, migrant labour is generally employed in agriculture and moves seasonally from south to north following the harvest. In Europe and the Middle East, migrant labour usually involves urban rather than agricultural employment and calls for longer periods of residence. The migrant labour market is often disorganized and exploitative. Many workers are supervised by middlemen such as labour contractors and crew leaders, who recruit and transport them and dispense their pay. Labourers commonly endure long hours, low wages, poor working conditions, and substandard housing. In some countries, child labour is widespread among migrant labourers, and even in the U.S. those children who do not work often do not go to school, since schools are usually open only to local residents. Workers willing to accept employment on these terms are usually driven by even worse conditions in their home countries. Labour organizing is made difficult by mobility and by low rates of literacy and political participation, though some migrant labourers in the U.S. have been unionized. Seealso Cesar Chavez.
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Association of workers in a particular trade, industry, or plant, formed to obtain improvements in pay, benefits, and working conditions through collective action. The first fraternal and self-help associations of labourers appeared in Britain in the 18th century, and the era of modern labour unions began in Britain, Europe, and the U.S. in the 19th century. The movement met with hostility from employers and governments, and union organizers were regularly prosecuted. British unionism received its legal foundation in the Trade-Union Act of 1871. In the U.S. the same effect was achieved more slowly through a series of court decisions that whittled away at the use of injunctions and conspiracy laws against unions. The founding of the American Federation of Labor (AFL) in 1886 marked the beginning of a successful, large-scale labour movement in the U.S. The unions brought together in the AFL were craft unions, which represented workers skilled in a particular craft or trade. Only a few early labour organizers argued in favour of industrial unions, which would represent all workers, skilled or unskilled, in a single industry. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) was founded by unions expelled from the AFL for attempting to organize unskilled workers, and by 1941 it had assured the success of industrial unionism by organizing the steel and automotive industries (see AFL-CIO). The use of collective bargaining to settle wages, working conditions, and disputes is standard in all noncommunist industrial countries, though union organization varies from country to country. In Britain, labour unions displayed a strong inclination to political activity that culminated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1906. In France, too, the major unions became highly politicized; the Confédération Générale du Travail (formed in 1895) was allied with the Communist Party for many years, while the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail is more moderate politically. Japan developed a form of union organization known as enterprise unionism, which represents workers in a single plant or multiplant enterprise rather than within a craft or industry.
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In economics, a measure of productive efficiency calculated as the ratio of what is produced to what is required to produce it. Any of the traditional factors of production—land, labour, or capital—can be used as the denominator of the ratio, though productivity calculations are actually seldom made for land or capital since their capacity is difficult to measure. Labour is in most cases easily quantified—for example, by counting workers engaged on a particular product. In industrialized nations, the effects of increasing productivity are most apparent in the use of labour. Productivity can be seen not only as a measure of efficiency but also as an indicator of economic development. Productivity increases as a primitive extractive economy develops into a technologically sophisticated one. The pattern of increase typically exhibits long-term stability interrupted by sudden leaps that represent major technological advances. Productivity in Europe and the U.S. made great strides following the development of such technologies as steam power, the railroad, and the gasoline motor. Later in the 20th century, advances in productivity stemmed from a number of innovations, including assembly lines and automation, computer-integrated manufacturing, database management systems, just-in-time manufacturing, and just-in-time inventory management. Increases in productivity have tended to lead to long-term increases in real wages.
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In economics, the theory that firms will pay a productive agent only what he or she adds to the financial earnings of the firm. Developed by writers such as John Bates Clark and Philip Henry Wicksteed at the end of the 19th century, marginal productivity theory holds that it is unprofitable to buy, for example, a man-hour of labour if it costs more than it contributes to its buyer's income. The amount in excess of costs that a productive input yields is the value of its marginal product; the theory posits that every type of input should be paid the value of its marginal product.
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Body of law that applies to matters such as employment, wages, conditions of work, labour unions, and labour-management relations. Laws intended to protect workers, including children, from abusive employment practices were not enacted in significant numbers until the late 19th century in Europe and slightly later in the U.S. In Asia and Africa, labour legislation did not emerge until the 1940s and '50s. Employment laws cover matters such as hiring, training, advancement, and unemployment compensation. Wage laws cover the forms and methods of payment, pay rates, social security, pensions, and other matters. Legislation on working conditions regulates hours, rest periods, vacations, child labour, equality in the workplace, and health and safety. Laws on trade unions and labour-management relations address the status of unions, the rights and obligations of workers' and employers' organizations, collective bargaining agreements, and rules for settling strikes and other disputes. Seealso arbitration; mediation.
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Study of how workers are allocated among jobs, how their rates of pay are determined, and how their efficiency is affected by various factors. The labour force of a country includes all those who work for gain in any capacity as well as those who are unemployed but seeking work. Many factors influence how workers are utilized and how much they are paid, including qualities of the labour force itself (such as health, level of education, distribution of special training and skills, and degree of mobility), structural characteristics of the economy (e.g., proportions of heavy manufacturing, technology, and service industries), and institutional factors (including the extent and power of labour unions and employers' associations and the presence of minimum-wage laws). Miscellaneous factors such as custom and variations in the business cycle are also considered. Certain general trends are widely accepted by labour economists; for instance, wage levels tend to be higher in jobs that involve high risk, in industries that require higher levels of education or training, in economies that have high proportions of such industries, and in industries that are heavily unionized.
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In economics, the general body of wage earners. In classical economics, labour is one of the three factors of production, along with capital and land. Labour can also be used to describe work performed, including any valuable service rendered by a human agent in the production of wealth, other than accumulating and providing capital. Labour is performed for the sake of its product or, in modern economic life, for the sake of a share of the aggregate product of the community's industry. The price per unit of time, or wage rate, commanded by a particular kind of labour in the market depends on a number of variables, such as the technical efficiency of the worker, the demand for that person's particular skills, and the supply of similarly skilled workers. Other variables include training, experience, intelligence, social status, prospects for advancement, and relative difficulty of the work. All these factors make it impossible for economists to assign a standard value to labour. Instead, economists often quantify labour hours according to the quantity and value of the goods or services produced.
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Specialization in the production process. Complex jobs can usually be less expensively completed by a large number of people each performing a small number of specialized tasks than by one person attempting to complete the entire job. The idea that specialization reduces costs, and thereby the price the consumer pays, is embedded in the principle of comparative advantage. Division of labour is the basic principle underlying the assembly line in mass production systems. See Émile Durkheim.
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Employment of boys and girls in occupations deemed unfit for children. Such labour is strictly controlled in many countries as a result of the effective enforcement of laws passed in the 20th century (e.g., the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959). In developing nations the use of child labour is still common. Restrictive legislation has proved ineffective in impoverished societies with few schools, although some improvements have resulted from global activism, such as boycotts of multinational firms alleged to be exploiting child labour abroad.
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