Government estimates in 1998 indicated that about 26 million Ethiopians were economically active. This figure is subject to fluctuation because of the seasonal nature of much of the activity. In 1999, about 85% of the total were engaged in agriculture and livestock raising. In 1997, about 34,570 persons were classified as unemployed.
The 1993 Labor Law provides workers with the right to form and join unions and engage in collective bargaining. This right excludes many categories of employment, including teachers and civil servants. The right of workers to strike (and the employer's right to lockout) is also somewhat restricted. Both sides must seek conciliation efforts, provide 10 days' notice and give reasons for the strike or lockout. The government may refer labor disputes to arbitration, which is binding on the parties. About 300,000 workers, or over 90% of the wage-earning labor force, are unionized.
The legal minimum age for employment is 14, with special provisions for these workers up to age 18. However, child labor is widespread, especially in the informal economy. This is exacerbated by the fact that the minimum wage was $15 a month in 2002.