The labor force in 1997 was estimated at 90,000. In 2001, approximately 27% of the labor force was employed in agriculture, 18% in industry and 55% in services. In 2000, the unemployment rate was 11.5%. There is a shortage of skilled labor and technical personnel.
Labor legislation covers minimum wages, work hours, employment of young persons, and workers' safety and compensation. The National Trades Union Congress of Belize is the major union federation, and the United General Workers' Union is the leading trade union. In 2002, there were eight independent unions, comprising 11% of the labor force, which represented a cross-section of white-collar, blue-collar, and professional workers, including most civil service employees. There are procedural requirements that a union must meet, but the government freely recognizes the right to join unions and to strike. Unions representing "essential" service workers must give an intent to strike notice two days prior to a strike.
The labor act prohibits all employment for children under the age of 12, and children between the ages of 12 and 14 are not permitted to work during school hours. The minimum age for hazardous industry employment is 17. A minimum wage ranging from $0.87 to $1.12 per hour is also effectively enforced except among undocumented workers, primarily on banana plantations. This wage does not provide a decent standard of living, but most workers earn more than the minimum. Workplace safety and health regulations are also effectively enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Public Health, particularly in Belize City.