In 1999, the labor force was estimated at 18.3 million. The service industry employed 46% of laborers, with 30% in agriculture and 24% in industry in 1990. The unemployment rate in 2001 was an estimated 17%.
The right to organize unions is provided by the constitution, although violence and discrimination against union members are major obstacles to engaging in union activities. Only about 4.5% of the workforce was unionized in 2002, with the vast majority of these workers in the public sector. There are three major labor confederations: The United Workers' Central, the Social Christian Colombian Democratic Workers' Confederation, and the Confederation of Colombian Workers. The right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution with the exception of essential workers.
The basic source of Colombian labor legislation is the Substantive Labor Code. The standard workday is eight hours with a 48-hour workweek. The minimum wage is reviewed each January to set the standard for wage negotiations. As of 2002, the minimum wage was $125 per month. This amount does not provide a decent standard of living for a family. The law prohibits children under the age of 14 from working in most jobs, but child labor remains a significant problem especially in the informal sector and in agriculture.