The Syrian labor force was estimated at about 4.8 million by the International Labor Organization in 1998. The service and agriculture sectors employ the majority of the labor force, each accounting for about a 40 percent stake. Although government figures put unemployment at below 10 percent, unofficial estimates more than double this figure, with under-employment accounting for another 25 percent. Syria has one of the highest population growth rates in the world, with an annual increase of 2.58 percent. Because of the high growth rate, an extra 200,000 new workers enter the labor market every year. According to the EIU Country Report, the unemployment rate among 15 to 29-year-olds is unofficially reported to be as high as 85 percent. As a part of an emergency plan in its 2000 budget, the government has allocated S£80 billion for the creation of 92,322 new jobs, but this falls far short of the number entering the labor market each year.
Due to these harsh conditions in the labor market, many Syrians go to Lebanon and the Gulf States to work. For that reason, in recent years, Syria has become economically dependent on Lebanon. Sources in Lebanon estimate that about 500,000 to 1 million Syrians work in the country. In Beirut, Syrian workers can earn twice what they make in their own country. Jobs in Lebanon reduce unemployment in Syria and the remittances of these workers to their families back home are estimated at US$1-3 billion dollars per year. The condition exacerbates economic deprivation in Lebanon, however. Lebanese Shiites and Palestinian refugees are hard hit by the influx of Syrian workers.
The 1973 Syrian constitution provides for the right of the "popular sectors" (workers, peasants, and state employees) of society to form trade unions. The government insists that there is in practice trade union pluralism (a condition in which a multiple number of unions with different particular interests can freely exist). Despite this, workers are not free to form labor unions independent of the government-prescribed structure. The General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU) is the major independent popular organization. The government uses it as a framework for controlling nearly all aspects of union activity. The GFTU is charged with providing opinions on legislation, devising rules for workers, and organizing labor. In the private sector, unions are active in monitoring compliance with the laws and ensuring workers' health and safety. Strikes are not prohibited (except in the agricultural sector), but in practice they are discouraged.