The labor force in 1991 was estimated at 282,000. However, 50 percent of the labor force was thought to be unemployed in 2000. Of those who had employment, around 75 percent were engaged in agriculture, almost entirely on small family farms or in family-based cattle herding. The largest single employer in the formal sector is the civil service, with an estimated 10,000 employees. The rest of the state-owned sector (which includes the port, railway, posts, telecommunications, and utilities) employs an estimated 16,000 people. Many people seek work in the government sector since it entails considerable job security, family medical benefits, and a pension. Forced labor is illegal in Djibouti.
There is a social insurance scheme in Djibouti with benefits, which depend on whether the worker is employed in the private sector , the civil service, or the army. Employees receive benefits in case of accidents at work and are allocated retirement pensions after the age of 55 years.
Trade unions and workers can be militant, as was shown in 1996 when proposed budget cuts caused a general strike and civil unrest. The government also has often built up salary arrears that have led to discontent among the workforce.