[This article was taken from Chapter Three of Bible Manners & Customs by Rev. G.M. Mackie, M.A, 1898 (which we have revised and reprinted)].
Every Eastern town has a well-known place where men congregate at dawn and wait to be engaged in manual labor for the day. Such labor includes gardening, ditching, repairing walls, whitewashing, and lifting and carrying burdens.
Laborers Waiting at Daybreak
The laborer stands either without any tools, or with the trowel, spade, hoe, or rope that he is accustomed to using. The common time of engagement is shortly after sunrise; the unengaged hang about for a few hours and then generally go elsewhere in search of small jobs. Such day laborers are usually too lazy, irregular, or inefficient to follow a regular trade. They expect to have an overseer over them to keep them from loitering, and when the time of payment comes, some incident in the day’s proceedings is frequently discovered on which to found a claim for more than the sum agreed upon. The altercation of Matthew 20:12, from a variety of causes, is often repeated.
These day laborers live from hand to mouth, and each day’s wage is needed at sunset to purchase the family supper, which is always the chief meal of the day. Scripture says, “Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin” (Deut. 24:14 and 15-NIV).