The total labor force was about two million in 1999, of which 56% were primarily engaged in agriculture. Less than 2% of the labor force is salaried. There is a great disparity between the income of the wage earner and that of the uneducated traditional laborer, whose yearly income is less than the average monthly income of the salaried worker.
Trade union activity is concentrated in urban areas and particularly in the south, where most wage and salaried workers are employed. The Kérékou regime consolidated all previous trade union organizations into the National Union of Syndicates and Workers of Benin in 1973. The Confederation of Autonomous Unions is a separate and larger federation primarily representing unions in the public sector. The constitution gives workers the right to organize, join unions, meet, and strike. As of 2002, around 75% of wage earners were unionized, but the percentage is much smaller in the private sector.
The fundamental labor legislation provides for collective agreements between employers and workers, for the fixing of minimum wages by the government on the advice of advisory committees, and for a 40- to 46-hour basic workweek. Domestic and agricultural workers generally work more than 70 hours per week. The legislation also provides for paid annual leave and for family allowances for children. These arrangements affect only the small proportion of the total labor force that is in wage-paid employment. The minimum wage was $34 per month in 2000, but was only enough to provide rudimentary food and shelter for a family. Most workers earn more than the minimum wage by engaging in subsistence farming or informal sector trade. Although the labor code prohibits employment for children under age 14, child labor remains a huge problem. A 2000 study shows that an estimated 75% of apprentices working as seamstresses, hairdressers, carpenters, and mechanics were under the legal employment age.