Of the total estimated workforce of 3.9 million in 2001, 80% were engaged in agriculture. In that year, the estimated unemployment rate was 14.6% in urban areas. In rural regions, unemployment was an estimated 5.3%.
With the breakup of the Mali Federation in 1960, all the unions in the country joined together to form the National Union of Malian Workers (Union National des Travailleurs du Mali— UNTM). The UNTM was disbanded at the time of the 1968 coup, but was reestablished in 1970. Most workers organized in Mali belong to a union that is a member of UNTM federation. A second federation, the Syndicated Confederation of Malian Workers, was formed following a split in the UNTM in 1997. The two groups divide the nation's 12 unions between them. In 2002, essentially all wage-earners were union members. The constitution provides for the right to strike within certain limitations in some sectors. For instance, civil servants and state-employed workers must engage in mediation and give two weeks notice of an intent to strike.
Workers in the formal industrial sector may start to work as young as 12, with parental permission. However, this provision does not apply to the millions of children working in rural areas or in the urban informal economy. Wage workers are given extensive protection under the labor laws, including a maximum workweek, a minimum wage, and a specified number of days of paid annual leave. In 2002, the minimum wage was about $40 per month. The legal maximum workweek was set at 40 hours in industry, and 45 hours for agricultural laborers. Foreign, even illegal, workers are provided with the same protections.