Brazil employed approximately 24.49 million people in 1998: 66 percent between 18 and 39 years of age, 31 percent between 40 and 64 years of age, 2 percent under 17 years of age, and 1 percent 65 years of age or older. The rate of unemployment for 2000 was 7.1 percent, a decline from the 1999 rate of 7.6 percent. This rate was calculated by the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística, (IBGE, Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) in the 6 largest metropolitan areas of the country (Recife, Salvador, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, and Porto Alegre). Unemployment rates for the 1998-2000 period were the highest in the decade, and at least as high as in 1984, the last year that the military held power.
Unions represent all major segments of industry. The National Confederation of Industrial Workers, the National Confederation of Commercial Workers, the National Confederation of Bank Workers, and the National Confederation of Ground Transport Workers are examples of the major labor unions in Brazil. Unions are legal, and financed by compulsory payments deducted from workers' paychecks and by membership dues. Approximately 7 million workers are unionized, accounting for 20-30 percent of the employed labor force . Brazilian workers have had the right to strike since 1984. In 1992 the economy was hit by an organized strike of port workers, airport workers, teachers, drivers, fare collectors, and government employees. In the late 1990s strikes were still common in Brazil.
The minimum wage was established in 1940. After correcting for inflation, the initial minimum wage was approximately US$100 per month in 1940; it rose to its maximum in 1960 at US$170 per month, and was equal to US$75 per month in December 2000.
Even though children under 14 years of age are prohibited from working, it is estimated that 14 percent of all children between 10 and 13 work. Maternity benefits include a 90-day leave for mothers and a one-week leave for fathers. Racial discrimination is illegal, but still practiced by many businesses in Brazil. Non-white workers and women are often underpaid. The role of women in the workforce has changed considerably in the 1980s and 1990s. According to the constitution, there must be equal pay for equal work regardless of sex. The government also provides special protection for women. While the more industrialized areas in Brazil, mostly the southeast region, employ women and treat them equally to male workers, the less industrialized regions, mostly the northern regions, still underpay women and discriminate against them.