The Syrian labor force is well educated and well trained in comparison with those of other Arab countries, but its size is small because about half the population is under 15 years of age and because many skilled workers are employed abroad in OPEC member nations. It has been estimated that 4.7 million persons were employed in 1998. As of 1996, 40% worked in agriculture, 40% in services, and 20% in industry. There is a high level of underemployment, and unemployment was last officially reported at 20% in 2000. Many unskilled persons in agriculture and industry work only seasonally. The government is attempting to meet the demand for trained workers by establishing vocational schools.
The statutory workweek is 36 hours. In 2002, the minimum wage was $57 per month in the public sector and between $49 and $53 per month in the private sector. The law mandates one day of rest per week. These regulations are enforced through the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs. Generally, the legal minimum age for employment is 16 years, with some exceptions. The Labor Law of 1959 established the right of workers to form unions and empowered the government to regulate hours of work, vacations, sick leave, health and safety measures, and workers' compensation. However, unions must belong to the government's bureaucratic labor confederation. The confederation acts merely as a conduit to transfer directives from government decision makers to unions and workers. Thus there is no meaningful right to strike or bargain collectively. The government also is authorized to arbitrate labor disputes.