The labor force in 2001 totaled some 33.4 million (compared with 21.7 million in 1981 and 15.1 million in 1967). In 1996, the last year reported, about 50% were engaged in agriculture and related occupations, 20% in industry, and 30% in services. In 2001, unemployment amounted to 3.9% of the economically active population.
Because of persisting government opposition to unions, organized labor was not a major factor in Thai life prior to the 1970s. Labor legislation in 1969 delineated certain basic workers' rights, and unions were granted greater freedom to organize under the Labor Relations Act of 1975. The Thai Trade Union Congress is the largest labor federation. As of 2002, only 2% of the labor force (11% of industrial workers) was unionized. Minimum daily wage rates in 2002 ranged from $3.01 to $3.71 depending on the cost of living in different provinces. Legislation regulating hours and conditions of labor, workers' compensation, and welfare also exists, however, these laws are weakly enforced.
While forced labor is prohibited by the Thai constitution, there are reports that workers are physically prevented from leaving some sweatshops, especially ones which employ illegal immigrants from Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. These same sweatshops have also been accused of using physical coercion to meet production goals.
The minimum working age was raised to 15 in 1998, but this law has not traditionally been effectively enforced. As of 2002, it was estimated that there were one million children working on family farms. Another 240,000 to 410,000 children were working in urban areas.