In 1999, about two-thirds of Myanmar's civilian wage labor force, estimated at 24 million, was engaged in agriculture, primarily rice cultivation. Roughly 10% were employed in industry, and the remainder in services. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5.1% in 2001.
No trade union or independent labor movement activity has occurred since 1988, when the government banned the workers' and peasants' organizations of the previous government, thereby eliminating any right to bargain collectively. Forced labor is frequently used by the military for building projects. Prison labor is also extensively used, especially in stone quarrying projects. Wage levels continue to be low and have been eroded by inflation.
While the official minimum working age is 13, the presence of child labor is conspicuous in both rural and urban areas. Most children must work to help support their families and only about 40% of children complete five years at primary schooling.
Only government workers and employees of a few traditional industries are covered by minimum wage laws, which was $0.25 daily for a six hour workday in 2002. A skilled factory worker can earn around $12.00 a day. Health and safety risks in the workplace are prevalent.