Wage labour

Wage labour (also wage labor in American English) is the socioeconomic relationship between a worker and an employer, where the worker sells his or her labour power under a formal or informal employment contract. [1] These transactions usually occur in a labour market where wages are market determined. [2] In exchange for the wages paid, the work product generally becomes the undifferentiated property of the employer, except for special cases such as the vesting of intellectual property patents in the United States where patent rights are usually vested in the employee personally responsible for the invention. A wage labourer is a person whose primary means of income is from the selling of his or her labour power in this way.

In modern mixed economies such as those of the OECD countries, it is currently the most common form of work arrangement. Although most labour is organised as per this structure, the wage work arrangements of CEOs, professional employees, and professional contract workers are sometimes conflated with class assignments, so that "wage labour" is considered to apply only to unskilled, semi-skilled or manual labour.


The most common form of wage labour currently is ordinary direct, or "full-time". This is employment in which a free worker sells his or her labour for an indeterminate time (from a few years to the entire career of the worker), in return for a money-wage or salary and a continuing relationship with the employer which it does not in general offer contractors or other irregular staff. However, wage labour takes many other forms, and explicit as opposed to implicit (i.e. conditioned by local labour and tax law) contracts are not uncommon. Economic history shows a great variety of ways, in which labour is traded and exchanged. The differences show up in the form of:

  • Employment status – a worker could be employed full-time, part-time, or on a casual basis. He or she could be employed for example temporarily for a specific project only, or on a permanent basis. Part-time wage labour could combine with part-time self-employment. The worker could be employed also as an apprentice.
  • Civil (legal) status – the worker could for example be a free citizen, an indentured labourer, the subject of forced labour (including some prison or army labour); a worker could be assigned by the political authorities to a task, they could be a semi-slave or a serf bound to the land who is hired out part of the time. So the labour might be performed on a more or less voluntary basis, or on a more or less involuntary basis, in which there are many gradations.
  • Method of payment ( remuneration or compensation) – The work done could be paid "in cash" (a money-wage) or "in kind" (through receiving goods and/or services), or in the form of " piece rates" where the wage is directly dependent on how much the worker produces. In some cases, the worker might be paid in the form of credit used to buy goods and services, or in the form of stock options or shares in an enterprise.
  • Method of hiring – the worker might engage in a labour-contract on his or her own initiative, or he or she might hire out their labour as part of a group. But he or she may also hire out their labour via an intermediary (such as an employment agency) to a third party. In this case, he or she is paid by the intermediary, but works for a third party which pays the intermediary. In some cases, labour is subcontracted several times, with several intermediaries. Another possibility is that the worker is assigned or posted to a job by a political authority, or that an agency hires out a worker to an enterprise together with means of production.
Other Languages
العربية: عمل مأجور
Deutsch: Lohnarbeit
français: Salariat
한국어: 임노동
кырык мары: Тӓрзӹ
Latina: Opifex
Nederlands: Loonarbeid
日本語: 賃労働
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਉਜਰਤੀ ਕਿਰਤ
slovenčina: Závislá práca
Türkçe: Ücretli emek
українська: Найманий робітник
Tiếng Việt: Tiền công lao động
中文: 雇傭勞動