In the last few decades, Morocco's labor force has been growing at the very fast rate of 300,000 per year. In 1999, Morocco's labor force stood at 11 million, up from 8.9 million in 1990. The official unemployment rate for 1998 was 19 percent, a figure that is believed to be higher than unofficial figures. The CIA World Fact-book estimated that the unemployment rate was 23 percent in 1999. Unemployment rates have risen in recent years as a result of the restructuring of the economy, which has forced many companies to reduce the number of employees.
Morocco's labor force generally lacks proper job training and secondary education, which explains why much of the younger workforce cannot expect high-paying jobs. Despite higher rates of school enrollment since the 1960s, illiteracy in Morocco is one of the highest in the Arab world, standing at 56.3 percent in 1998 (69 percent for women and 43.3 percent for men). The educational sector remains overburdened and under-staffed, and shortages in technical skills are viewed as a major impediment to business operations. The official unemployment rate in urban areas for 1999 was 22 percent, up from 17 percent in 1997. Unemployment remains especially high in urban areas, especially for women and for all workers under 34 years of age. Unemployment is also higher for university graduates and diploma holders.
Moroccan trade unions played a crucial role in the independence movement. Approximately 450,000 workers are unionized, mostly in the public sector, representing 5 percent of the labor force. The influence of the Moroccan labor union movement has shrunk considerably since independence. The once powerful movement is comprised of 17 trade-union federations, but real political clout is in the hands of 3 unions only. Although labor laws protecting the right of workers have been in place for decades, regulations are rarely enforced, and working conditions in Morocco are far from ideal. Labor actions, strikes, slowdowns, and protests frequently disturb work life, and are often met with repressive governmental actions and police brutality.
The government of Morocco supports workers' rights promoted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and has set conditions governing industrial and human relations and established minimum-wage standards. The 5-day 48-hour workweek is the standard. The government-mandated minimum wage in the public sector is approximately US$165 a month. The government provides social-security benefits that include a retirement pension and pay for on-the-job injuries. Wages have increased steadily over the last few years and are expected to increase again, as the 2001-02 budget has allocated US$10 billion for public sector workers' salaries and bonuses. However, it was not until the late 1990s had the rate of increase in public wages has exceeded the rate of inflation .