As of 2001, the Belgian workforce totaled 4.44 million people. In 1999, the service industry employed 73% of workers, 25% were employed in industry, and 2% in agriculture. The overall unemployment rate climbed to 12% in 1998, but fell to 7.2% by 2002.
The law provides workers with the right to associate freely and workers fully exercise their right to organize and join unions. Approximately 60% of workers are union members. Workers have a broad right to strike except in "essential" industries including the military. A single collective bargaining agreement, negotiated every other year, covers about 2.4 million private sector workers. This gives unions considerable control over economic policy. In addition, unions also freely exercise the right to strike.
Belgium has a five-day, 39-hour workweek, and work on Sundays is prohibited. Children under the age of 15 years are prohibited from working. Those between the ages of 15 and 18 may engage in part-time work-study programs, or work during school vacations. Child labor laws and standards are strictly enforced. In 2001, the national minimum wage was $1,050 per month. This minimum wage provides a decent standard of living for workers and their families.