Until 1975, the great bulk of the Angolan-African population consisted of traditional subsistence farmers or wage workers on expatriates' plantations. With the boom the country experienced during the 1960s and early 1970s, especially in mineral-related industries, a number of Africans were training in mining and in road, railway, and housing construction. In 1997, around 85% of the workforce was still engaged in agriculture. The estimated labor force in that year was five million. More recent employment figures are not currently available. In 2001, it was estimated that more than half of the population was unemployed or underemployed.
Wage policy was made the prerogative of the state in 1976, when penalties of two to eight years were established for unauthorized strikes and slowdowns. The official national labor federation, the União Nacional de Trabalhadores Angolanos, is controlled by the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and is still the primary workers' organization in the country. However, the National Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Angola, with some 51,000 members, is independent. Reversing earlier policy, the 1991 constitution recognizes the right for Angolans to form unions, bargain collectively, and to strike. However, these rights are not respected in practice. Strikes are permitted by law.
The government has established a 37-hour workweek and minimum health and safety standards. However, inadequate resources have prevented the government from enforcing these standards. The minimum working age is 14, but the government has been unable to enforce this standard. Although the legal minimum wage in 2002 was $30 per month, average earnings were considerably less.