In 2001, an estimated 26.6 million persons were active in the French economy. In 1997, 71% of the workforce was employed in the service sector, with 25% in industry and 4% in agriculture. As of 2002, the unemployment rate averaged 9%.
The oldest major labor organization, dating from 1895, is the communist-dominated Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), an affiliate of the WFTU. The Confédération Générale du Travail—Force Ouvrière (CGT–FO), was founded in 1948 as a splinter group of the CGT. Affiliated with the ICFTU, the CGT– FO draws its membership principally from white-collar workers and civil servants. Another labor group, the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, split from the Confédération Française de Travailleurs Chrétiens (CFTC) at a union congress in November 1964. The CFTC regrouped around those minorities wishing to continue the traditions of Christian unionism. Among the smaller labor groups are the Fédération Nationale des Syndicats d'Exploitants Agricoles; the Fédération de l'Éducation Nationale, the Confédération des Syndicats Libres; and the Confédération Française de l'Encadrement, a union of managerial and highly skilled technical personnel.
Although less than 10% of the workforce was unionized as of 2002, trade unions have significant influence in the country. Workers freely exercise their right to strike unless it is prohibited due to public safety. Many unions are members of international labor organizations. Collective bargaining is prevalent. It is illegal to discriminate against union activity.
The government determines the minimum hourly rate, which was the equivalent of $6.25 as of 2002. This amount provides a decent standard of living for a family. The standard legal workweek is set at 35 hours with restrictions on overtime. Children under age 16 are not permitted to work, and there are restrictions pertaining to employment of those under 18. Child labor laws are strictly enforced. The labor code and other laws provide for work, safety, and health standards.