Unemployment was estimated at 14.3 percent in 1998, among a total workforce of 71,000. Workers in Belize have the right to organize unions, and the law bars discrimination against employees on the basis of union affiliation. However, it is not uncommon for union sympathizers to be fired on grounds purportedly unrelated to their union activities. Effective redress for workers in this situation is difficult. They can file complaints with the Labor Department, but their cases are often difficult to prove. There were 11 unions in Belize in 2000 whose members comprised about 11 percent of the workforce. While officially the unions are independent of the political parties, most hold strong sympathies for either the UDP or the PUP.
Forced labor in Belize is forbidden by law, as is child labor. Children under the age of 14 are not permitted to enter the workforce, and those under 17 are not allowed to operate dangerous machinery. Children between 5 and 14 years old are required to attend school, although truancy and dropout rates are significant.
There is a minimum wage in Belize which applies to all full-time workers. The wage is generally set at US$1.10 per hour but fluctuates depending on the field of work. Those in the export industries receive at least US$1.00 per hour. Domestic workers in private homes and shop assistants are paid an hourly minimum rate of US$0.87. The minimum wage, as a sole source of income, is not enough to provide a decent standard of living. Most workers are paid more than the minimum. The standard workweek is 45 hours over 6 days. Anything more is considered overtime. Over the course of a year workers are given 13 public holidays and 2 weeks vacation.
Working conditions for documented workers are fairly good. For undocumented workers, especially the Hispanic laborers who make their livings on the banana farms, things can be more difficult. Worker housing on banana farms often lacks running water and electricity. Many times this housing is placed close to the fields, where exposure to pesticides is high. There are health and safety regulations in Belize covering numerous industries. However, enforcement and inspection are generally limited to urban areas or accessible rural areas where violations have been reported.