Meaning of Labour:

“My work begins when others play,” says the Drill – master. What he says is true.

What is play for others is a source of income for him. If a man takes exercise for the sake of health, if a mother rears up her child, a father teaches his own son, or if a man plants flowers for his pleasure—these are not considered ‘labour’ in Economics.

Labour may be defined as”Any exertion of mind or body undergone partly or wholly with a view to earning some good other than the pleasure derived directly from the work.”— Marshall.

Why? They are not undertaken to earn a money reward. Doing one’s own work or labour of love, however hard it may be, is not labour in the economic sense. Unless work is done for some consideration, i.e., payment in cash or kind, it cannot be called labour.

In ordinary language, by ‘labour’ we mean the work done by collies— hard manual labour, generally unskilled. But in Economics, the term ‘labour’ has a wider meaning. It does not merely mean manual labour. It includes mental work too. It thus embraces the work of labourers, engineers, clerks, typists, managers, policemen and other government officials, teachers, lawyers, domestic servants, etc. All type of work comes under ‘labour’ in Economics, provided it is done for money. Labour may thus be defined as “any exertion of mind or body undergone partly or wholly with a view to earning some good other than the pleasure derived directly from the work.”— (Marshall).

Productive and Unproductive Labour:


For a long time, there was disagreement among the economists as to what type of labour was productive and what was unproductive. The Physiocrats, a French school of economists in the 18th century, considered that only agriculture was productive labour, for only in agriculture real production took place.

Industry was not considered productive. According to Adam Smith, only that labour which resulted in the production of something tangible was productive. Thus he excluded the services of lawyers, doctors, teachers and singers, etc. from the category of productive labour. Later, however, the work of manufacturing goods was also recognized as productive.

Gradually it was recognized that the work of the trader in stocking goods and in transporting them also added to the value of a commodity was therefore productive. Banking and insurance work also came to be in­cluded under the heading productive’. Now all types of work, including the work of men of professions like medicine, law and teaching, as well as the work of domestic servants is regarded as productive. In short, all labour in the economic sense productive.

The term ‘unproductive labour’ is now applied even to wasted labour or undirected labour, or laoour which has failed to achieve its purpose, even in such cases, some economists say that the labour is productive, for when it was applied the intention was productive. It was only known –writer wards that it failed to produce anything. Even misdirected labour is productive from the point of view of the labourer, as he gets payment for it; it is unproductive from the point of view society only.

Peculiarities of labour:


In the past, labour was considered an ordinary commodity to be bought and sold in the market like otter commodities. It was not recognized that labour was not only a means to an end but was also an end in itself. Now this difference, which distinguishes labour from other goods, kepi well in the forefront. Let us see the peculiarities which make labour different from other commodities:

Labour is inseparable from the labourer:

A labourer’s work has to be delivered in person. A labourer cannot stay at home and let his ‘labour’ work in the fields. A doctor has to attend to his patients in person. If, however, labour takes some form, as a professor’s thoughts take the form of a book, it does not remain labour any-more. The book which is the result of labour is not labour itself; it is a material good and can be taken anywhere.

The labourer sells his services and not himself:


Whatever has been spent on a labourer’s training cannot be recovered by selling his labour. That might have been possible when slave trade used to flourish. But those days are long past. Now investment in the labourer becomes a part and parcel of him.

Labour is more perishable than any other commodity:

If time flies labour flies with it. A day lost without work means a day’s work gone forever. That is why workers are compelled to accept even low wages rather than earn nothing.

Labourers have not the same power of bargaining as their employers:

This is because labour cannot be stored up, and labourers are poor and ignorant. That is why, although a strike is a weapon used against the master, yet it hurts labour too. The development of strong trade unions in most industrial countries has helped the individual labourer, and in some cases turned the tables on the master. When labourers learn to deal with employers as a body, and not as individuals, they are no longer so weak. Collective bargaining removes the weakness of labour in this respect.

Man, not a machine:

A labourer differs from a machine in that he has feelings and likings. He works best when he is happy and puts his heart in the work. Rest, leisure, healthy surroundings, recreation and, above all, a fair treatment from officers add to his efficiency. He feels encouraged to do his best.

Less mobile:

Labour is much less mobile than capital and other goods. This follows from what has been said above, viz., that a labourer is not a machine. He does not want to leave his hearth and home and his kith and kin.


Supply independent of its demand:

The supply of labour is almost independent of its demand and cannot be easily and quickly increased or decreased. Labourers cannot be ‘made to order’ as other goods. If they are surplus, their numbers can the reduced only by a painful process of starvation or emigration. If there is a sudden increase in demand for labour, as during a war, wages will rise but supply of labour cannot be quickly increased.

Difficulty of calculating cost of production:

It is not easy to calculate the cost of production of labourers. Here again labour is a peculiar ‘commodity’. How can the cost of bringing up children be calculated?


Labourers differ in efficiency:

Unlike tools and machines, they are not exactly interchangeable. Workers are of varying degree of efficiency. Hence wages may differ from worker to worker or between different categories of workers.

Efficiency of Labour:

The English, American and the Japanese labour is considered to be much more efficient than the Indian labour. They are regarded as more productive. What is the reason?

Factors Affecting Efficiency:


The efficiency of a worker depends on two set of factors:

(a) His Power to Work;

(b) His Will to Work.

The labour’s capacity or Power to Work depends factors:

Inherent Qualities or the Racial Stock:

The Jats of the Jullundur Division in the Punjab are said to be more efficient farmers than Meos of Gurgaon district or Rajputs of Kangra district. A man inherits some qualities from the racial stock to which he belongs. Some races are known to be hardier than others.


These qualities are beyond an individual’s control and are largely the outcome of climate and natural environment. The inhabitants of temperate and cold regions are more efficient than those of the tropics and sub-tropics. Hot climate has a weakening influence and makes sustained work difficult.

Acquired Qualities:

There are, however, certain qualities which a worker acquires by education, general and technical. Among these attributes may be mentioned honestly, intelligence, perseverance, judgment, health and strength of the body, resourcefulness, sense of responsibility, etc. Efficiency of labour depends also on these qualities. An honest, intelligent and hard-working person will undoubtedly be m6re efficient in his work than one who lacks these qualities.


If a worker is getting a good wage, he will be able to provide himself with good food and other necessaries of life. It will add to his health, strength and power of endurance, and he will undoubtedly become a better worker. “The economy of high wages” is a well known maxim. “Low wages are dear wages.” Fair and prompt payment is a great incentive to better work. It encourages the worker to do his best.

Factory Environment and Equipment:


If the factory is neat and well- ventilated and the surroundings are sanitary and attractive, the workers will be able to put in better work. Similarly, if the machinery is modern and up-to-date, if the raw materials are of good quality, if the manager is competent and can effectively marshal his labour force, the output of labour will increase.

Hours of Work:

It has been proved that long hours mean low efficiency. The worker is overcome by fatigue. He works leisurely and half-heartedly, which means lower efficiency. If the working day is of a reasonable duration, and there are proper rest pauses, the worker will be able to put in better work.

Labour Organisation:

Proper organisation of labour inside the factory will improve labour efficiency. A good trade union can also improve labour efficiency through its fraternal functions. The worker’s will to work is strengthened by his ambition to rise, his desire to make the most of an opportunity, the inducement of efficiency bonuses or profit-sharing schemes and his sense 6f duty. All these factors add to a worker’s zeal. The more earnest he is the greater is his productivity.

Efficiency of Indian Labour:


It is said that Indian labour is less productive. This is true. Indian labour compares unfavourably with Japanese, British and American labour. His productivity is much lower. There are several factors responsible for compara­tive inefficiency of Indian labour some of which are beyond his control. The fault is not of labour alone. Production is a co-operative effort. Unless all the factors of production are satisfactory, production will not be up to the mark.

The Indian labour is no doubt less efficient; but it is not due to any inherent deficiencies of his own. The sub-tropical climate weakens him physically. Extremes of heat and cold make factory work a great ordeal. His wage is extremely low and is hardly enough to keep his body and soul together. Besides, labour is not properly organised.

It is caste-ridden and migratory. He is generally illiterate and lacks technical training. The factory conditions are very depressing and foreign to his natural tastes and temperament. He is supplied with second-rate machinery and equipment. The supply of raw materials is also unsatisfactory. Even the managers are not very competent. The worker is condemned to long hours of work. In view of the above conditions, it is really surprising that the Indian worker is able to do even as much work as he is doing.

Efficiency of Indian labour can be improved by removing these defects, i.e., by imparting him general and technical education, by improving the working conditions in factories, by reducing the duration of the working day, by increasing wages, through sensible trade union activities and by giving the workers a sense of participation in the factory work, etc.

Advantages of Efficient Labour:

Several advantages arise from efficiency of labour. Efficient labour benefits the individual worker himself, his employer, and the nation as a whole. The worker gains from his own efficiency. He wins the regard of his fellow-workers and the approval of his boss. He is also able to earn more and enjoy a higher standard of living.


The factory owner stands to gain much from an efficient labourer. Such a labourer needs less supervision, does not waste materials, and carefully handles his machines. The repair charges are thus reduced and the cost of production lowered. Efficient labour is more economical.

The nation at large ultimately benefits from an efficient population. The national wealth increases. The level of skill, intelligence and physique improves. Above all, it adds to the competitive strength of the country’s industries. It is well-known that Japan’s industrial supremacy in the markets of the world is largely due to the efficiency of the Japanese labour. Efficient labour is a great national asset. The economic backwardness of India may be partly attributed to the lower efficiency of Indian labour.

Mobility of Labour:

Of all kinds of luggage, man is said to be the most difficult to transport With the exception of land, perhaps labour is the least mobile factor. Man finds one excuse or another for not leaving his native place. He clings to his hearth and home, and is reluctant to leave his kith and kin.

He is content with what ne has and has no urge to Venture abroad. Indian labour is particularly less mobile. This is due to his ignorance, conservatism, caste considerations and comparative lack of quick and cheap means of communication and transport.

Types of Mobility:

Mobility of labour takes the following forms:

Geographical Mobility:

This means moving from one town to another, from one State to another, or from one country to another. Of all types of mobility this is the most difficult. Man dreads a change as a child dreads the dark. He suffers from inertia and likes to stay on where he is. He is prepared to put up with known hardship rather than face unknown ones.

Vague fear attaches to new and strange places. One wants to live amongst one’s kith and kin. Differences in religion, caste and language—all deter workmen from going to distant places. The Punjab worker, especially the Sikh, is comparatively more mobile. He is found in almost all parts of the world—America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. He is known all the world over.

Occupational Mobility:

This is of two types: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal Mobility means that the worker moves from one occupation to another, but almost in the same grade, e.g., a typist gives up service and opens a business of his own on the same lines. Or a carpenter becomes a blacksmith. Moving on the same industrial plane is comparatively easy, because it does not entail any marked change in work.

Vertical Mobility:

This type of mobility, on the other hand, means moving from a lower occupation to a higher occupation, e.g., a ‘mistri’ or a mechanic becomes a mechanical engineer, or a school teacher becomes a college professor. This type of mobility is not easy. It calls for an improvement in power to work and understand, and needs opportunity and the means of using it.

Importance of Mobility:

Mobility is of great advantage to the worker himself. Undoubtedly most of those who leave their village homes for distant industrial centres or foreign lands are able to improve their prospects. They are able to raise themselves up economically. By trying luck elsewhere one generally meets good luck. One rots by staying at home. Nothing can be achieved without showing an adventurous spirit.

A mobile labour force is also advantageous from the point of view of the industrial structure. We find new industries establishing themselves and old ones expanding. Similarly, industries contract and decay. It is necessary that labour should move out of the latter into the former. It is through mobility of labour alone that supply of labour is adjusted to the demand for it.

It may be noted that a growing population makes for mobility of labour. The new generation can move into new industries. A country with a stationary population however, will be seriously handicapped in this respect. Mobility of labour checks unemployment. Labour moves from places where it is not wanted to those where it is wanted. In this way, unemployment is reduced. In fact, this is one of the function of labour exchanges.

Factors Which Have Increased Mobility:

In recent years, several factors have facilitated the mobility of labour.

The following are the main factors which have made labour more mobile than before:

(i) Development of the Means of Communication and Transport:

Obvious­ly, the workers have been able to move from one industrial centre to another in search of better job owing to the development of the means of communication and transport. Political boundaries have been practically wiped out and distance has been annihilated. One may be anywhere, he can remain in constant communication with home, and come back with great speed.

(ii) Spread of education and information:

About other countries and places has also helped in this direction. Education has given the workers new knowledge about other places and induced them to move out.

(iii) Advent of machinery:

Advent of machinery has also made it easy for the workers to move from one industry to another, because mechanical work is almost the same everywhere. The development of automatic machinery has lessened the importance of specialized skill.

(iv) Vocational guidance:

Vocational guidance Offered by the State and the advice of the Employment Exchanges have also added to the mobility of labour. The workers are helped to get into more suitable jobs or get jobs if they are unemployed.

(v) Facilities for Technical Education:

Have also been very helpful in giving mobility to labour. The workers are given technical training and are thus equipped for superior and better jobs than before in search of which they freely move about. These are the principal-causes, which have made workers more mobile in recent times. They are no longer as stay-at-home as they used to be in the past.

Factors Hampering Mobility of Labour in India:

Of all factors labour or man is the least mobile. Capital exists in the form of money and appliances of production. They are lifeless things, and can be sent to different places. However, it is not worthwhile to dismantle heavy machinery which has already been installed in a place and to carry it to some other place. Man, on the other hand, is not merely actuated by economic or monetary considerations. His place is generally fixed in society, and he does not like to be plucked out of certain surroundings.

He wants to live in the midst of his kith and kin. He is stay-at-home and dreads a change. Among the obstacles in the way of mobility of labour may be mentioned the differences of language, customs, laws, climate, etc. On account of all these hindrances man is inclined to carry on in the place where he has once come to settle. He will not be easily drawn away by the lure of a little extra income. He suffers from inertia and does not like to move. That is why it is remarked that “of all sorts of luggage man is the most difficult to be transported”.

Indian labour is comparatively more immobile. India is a vast country and there are great differences in climate, customs, language, etc. A Punjabi is almost a foreigner in Calcutta or Bombay. These differences discourage an Indian worker from moving to a different place. Lack of education and information about the conditions in other centres of work also stands in his way.