In 2001, the labor force totaled about 17 million. As of that year, the labor force was distributed as follows: services, 64%; industry, 29%; and agriculture, 7%. Employment in agriculture has been in steady decline; many farm workers have been absorbed by construction and industry. Unemployment averaged about 22% during 1997, but had fallen to 11% by 2002.
At the end of the Civil War, a system of national, or vertical, syndicates was formed through which the government controlled industry and labor. Almost all employees and employers were required to join one of the National Syndical Organization's 22 syndicates, each of which covered a basic field of industry or agriculture. Collective bargaining was introduced in 1958. Strikes, though prohibited, became increasingly common during the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a law of May 1975 legalized work stoppages under limited conditions. The constitution of 1978 guarantees the freedom to form unions and the right to strike. The main trade unions are the General Union of Workers (Socialist), the Workers' Commissions (Communist), the Workers' Trade Union (independent), the Solidarity of Basque Workers (independent), and the National Confederation of Labor (anarchist).
In 2002, approximately 15% of the workforce was unionized. The law provides for the right to bargain collectively, and unions exercise this right in practice. Discrimination against union activity is illegal.
The monthly minimum wage was $394 in 2002. This wage provides a decent standard of living for a family. The regular workweek was 40 hours, with a mandated 36-hour rest period. In addition, workers receive 12 paid holidays per year and one month's paid vacation. The legal minimum age for employment was 16 years, and this is enforced by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.