In 2000, the total working population of Mozambique was estimated at 8 million. Since most Mozambicans work in the uncertain conditions of the agricultural sector, however, only 17 percent of this total earn regular wages. In terms of gender differences in the division of labor, women tend to work overwhelmingly in service-based activities, particularly in the informal sector. Furthermore, women tend to suffer from a double work-day, being forced out of economic necessity to engage in income-earning activities during the day, and then being responsible for the domestic household tasks at night.
There are 2 major trade union federations in Mozambique, collectively representing approximately 200,000 workers and 13 unions. The largest federation, the Organization of Mozambican Workers (OTM), was established following independence. The OTM was directly controlled by the government until 1994, at which time it officially declared itself free of any political party affiliation. Legislation passed in 1991 broke the OTM's legal monopoly over trade union activity. Immediately thereafter, a separate federation, the Free and Independent Union of Mozambique (SLIM), was established by 3 OTM-breakaway unions.
The Constitution permits workers to strike, with the exception of government employees, police, military personnel, and employees engaged in other essential services (which include sanitation, firefighting, air traffic control, health care, water, electricity, fuel, post office, and telecommunications). Numerous strikes have occurred over the past several years, many of which, according to the U.S. Department of State, are centered on issues related to privatization, salaries, and increases in wage levels. In accordance with the 1991 Labor Law, there are no known instances of employers seeking retribution against striking workers.
Children under the age of 16 years are prohibited from working in the wage economy. Since there is such a high adult unemployment rate—estimated at 50 percent—there are few violations of this law. Children often work on family farms and in the informal sector, however, in order to financially assist their parents. The harsh reality is that if children do not engage in activities to assist their parents in generating income, the family will not have enough money to eat.
Although Mozambique has a minimum wage, which averaged at $40 per month in 2000, it is not adequate to support even a small family of 3. Consequently, most workers rely on earning additional income in the informal sector, in addition to growing corn and vegetables on small plots of land for personal consumption. The legal limitation of a workweek for workers in the non-agricultural sector is 44 hours, while employees are entitled to 1 rest day per week. Despite detailed legally defined health and safety standards, reports indicate that violations of such standards are commonplace. In 1995 alone, 524 major accidents occurred in the building, timber, and mining sectors.