In 2002, the labor force was estimated at 40.4 million. In 1999, agriculture accounted for 44% of the total workforce, services 39%, and industry for 19%. Some 70% of rural residents engage in agricultural pursuits. Unemployment and underemployment are major problems; while unemployment was officially 6.3% in 2001, underemployment has frequently gone as high as 25%.
There are sizable numbers of Pakistani workers in the Middle East and European countries, most of them from the poor regions of Pakistan's NWFP. There are also several million refugees from Afghanistan who have become part of the Pakistan labor force in those regions and in Karāchi.
The trade union movement is of recent origin. The principal federations include the National Labor Federation and the All Pakistan National Federation of Trade Unions. Labormanagement differences are handled by the central conciliation machinery, established under the provisions of the Industrial Disputes Act of 1947. Benefits such as bonuses, paid holidays, and job security regulations are set forth in the basic West Pakistan Industrial and Commercial Employment Ordinance of 1968. In 2002, approximately 10% of the industrial labor force was unionized, and 3% of the total workforce. The government curtails union activity. Although collective bargaining is protected by law, government restrictions preclude bargaining by large segments of the labor force.
The practice of child labor is widespread. According to a government survey, three or four million children between the ages of five and 14 worked as of 2002. However, informal estimates have placed this figure as high as 8 to 10 million. There may also be some 20 million bonded laborers in Pakistan. Bonded labor is particularly common among the persecuted Christian minority. Children are often kidnapped to serve as forced labor. The minimum wage for unskilled workers was $30 per month in 2002. There is a maximum workweek of 48 hours, but most employees are unaware of these work restrictions.