When someone is hired to do piece work, he or she is paid on the basis of how much is produced, rather than being offered a flat hourly wage. This is closely associated with the garment and textile industries, and it is also used to assemble some electronics. It has also been a subject of historical debate, since some opponents believe that piece work is harmful for workers, while supports argue that it supports a free market economy. Both sides have valid points, and some governments have made efforts to address the issue.
The concept of piece work is quite old. In the English language, the idea of pieces of work taken home by apprentices dates back to the 1500s. The development of assembly line systems further promoted the concept, since it is well suited to creating a small part of an individual whole. Piece work is often linked with sweatshop labor in many people's minds as a result, since it was often performed in grueling conditions and accompanied by long hours. In some cases, it can also be accomplished at home, which has raised questions about labor regulation, since the home is not an easily regulated or inspected environment.
With the development of factories, many companies adopted the traditional piece work system. Factory workers logged the amount of work that they completed, typically submitting tracking stubs to a foreman who double checked the work before signing off on it so that the employees could be paid. Some modern factories continue to use this system, especially in developing nations.
Piece work is considered to be an excellent example of performance-related pay, since the amount of take home pay is directly linked to the worker's performance. Supporters of these systems argue that workers are rewarded for distinguishing themselves, while slower workers are fairly compensated for their labors. By directly tying pay to the amount of items produced, this encourages workers to complete tasks at a high rate of speed, translating into greater efficiency for the company hiring the workers.
Opponents of piece work points out that the high rate of speed can be dangerous for workers, and that it may promote injuries, not efficiency. Concerns have also been raised about the amount of pay received, with some labor advocates claiming that slower workers are not, in fact, fairly compensated. This compensation method also places a value on quantity over quality, which may not be desired.