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labor law or employment law is the body of laws, administrative rulings, and precedents which addresses the legal rights of, and restrictions on, workers and their organisations. As such, it mediates many aspects of the relationship between trade unions, employers and employees. In some countries (such as Canada), employment laws related to unionised workplaces are differentiated from those relating to particular individuals. In most countries however, no such distinction is made.
labor law arose due to the demands of workers for better conditions and the right to organise, and the simultaneous demands of employers to restrict the powers of workers' organisations and keep labor costs low. Employers costs can increase due to workers organising to win better wages, or by laws emposing costly requirements, such as health and safety or equal opprtunities conditions. Workers' organisations, such as trade unions, can also transcend purely industrial disputes, and gain political power - certain interests in society may be opposed to this. The state of labor law at any one time is therefore both the product of, and a component of the conditions for, struggles between different interests in society.
For example, workers' and trade union legal rights in the USA are relatively restricted, compared to most European countries, but relatively liberal compared to totalitarian regimes - many of which ban trade unions altogether.
There may be law stating the minimum amount that a worker can be paid per hour. Both Britain and the USA have a law of this kind, though the figure provided for in the USA is so low as to sometimes be insufficient for the means of a worker's subsistence. In response to this, Living wage ordinances have been passed by many city authorities in the United States, which define a minimum wage for employees of those authorities, and sometimes for the employees of companies with which the authority contracts. These, therefore, constitute law, albeit not law whch restricts businesses in general.
Before the Industrial Revolution, the workday varied between 11 and 14 hours. With the growth of capitalism and the introduction of machinery, longer hours became far more common, with 14-15 hours being the norm, and 16 not at all uncommon. Use of child labor was commonplace, often in factories. In England and Scotland in 1788, about two-thirds of person working in the new water-powered textile factories were children.
The first law on the length of a working day was passed in 1833 in England, limiting miners to 12 hours, and children to 8 hours. The 10-hour day was established in 1848, and shorter hours with the same pay were gradually accepted thereafter.
After England, Germany was the first European country to pass labor laws; Chancellor Bismarck's main goal being to undermine the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). In 1878, Bismarck instituted a variety of anti-socialist measures, but despite this, socialists continued gaining seat in the Reichstag. The Chancellor, then, adopted a different approach to tackling socialism. In order to appease the working class, he enacted a variety of paternalistic social reforms, which became the first type of social security. The year 1883 saw the passage of the Health Insurance Act, which entitled workers to health insurance; the worker paid two-thirds, and the employer one-third, of the premiums. Accident insurance was provided in 1884, whilst old age pensions and disability insurance were established in 1889. Other laws restricted the employment of women and children. These efforts, however, were not entirely successful; the working class largely remained unreconciled with Bismarck's conservative government.
In France, the first labor law was voted in 1841. However, it only limited under-age miners' hours, and it was not until the Third Republic that labor law was effectively enforced, in particular after Waldeck-Rousseau 1884 law legalizing trade unions.