The labor force in 2000 numbered 67.7 million persons. The distribution of employed workers in 2002 was as follows: services, 70%; industry, 25%; and agriculture, 5%. The unemployment rate in 2002 was 5.4%. Employers tend toward traditional paternalistic, often authoritarian, control over their workers, but in turn most regular workers have traditionally enjoyed permanent status.
Union membership was always less than half a million before World War II, but jumped to 6.2 million in 1955, and was 11.5 million in 2002. However, the rate of union membership has been decreasing in the past three decades, with 22% of all eligible workers unionized in 1999, compared to 39% in 1955. Union strength is greatest in local government employees, automobile workers, and electrical machinery workers. Most members are organized in units called enterprise unions, which comprise the employees of a single firm. Virtually all organized workers are affiliated with national organizations, of which the largest is the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Shin-Rengo), established in 1987 following the dissolution of the Japanese Confederation of Labor (Domei), and incorporating the General Council of Trade Unions (Soyho) as of 1989. Collective bargaining is widely utilized, and the right to strike is available to most workers.
Strict enforcement of child labor laws as well as societal values protects children from exploitation in the workplace. Children under age 15 are not permitted to work, and those under 18 are restricted. As of 2002, the minimum wage ranged from $14 to $18 per hour, depending on region. Labor legislation mandated a standard workweek of 40 hours.