In terms of size, the total workforce of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and French Guiana are approximately 120,000, 100,000, and 58,800, respectively (1997 est.) Labor policies are generally quite progressive, reflecting strict French labor codes that enshrine the rights of workers. There are virtually no incidents of child labor, though some children must help their parents in agricultural activities to increase household incomes. Unionization is high in the industrial sector and parts of the service sector. Agricultural workers are also unionized, though to a lesser extent. The major union federations in Guadeloupe are the General Federation of Guadeloupe Workers and the General Union of Guadeloupe Workers, while the major union federation in Martinique is the Central Union for Martinique Workers. Most unions in the CDF are strongly socialist in orientation.
By far, the most daunting problem faced by the CDF in the area of labor relates to the massive levels of unemployment characteristic of each department. Unemployment is especially acute for young workers and, to a lesser extent, women. Strikes and riots have erupted in the CDF as a result of the high unemployment rates, most notably in French Guiana in November 1996, when a general strike was triggered by student frustration with lack of prospects. The nation-wide strike lasted for 2 days, bringing the economy to a standstill.
The unemployment rate in Guadeloupe was 24 percent in 1999, though this represented a substantial improvement from the 27 percent rate in 2000. Job opportunities, particularly in the service sector, expanded by 18.7 percent in 2000 from the year before. Around 14.5 percent of all unemployed in Guadeloupe are young workers between the ages of 16 to 25 years. Unemployment rate figures suggest gender inequalities in terms of employers being more inclined to hire men. In Guadeloupe, for instance, 57.7 percent of all unemployed are women, while these figures are 53 percent and 59.3 percent, respectively, in French Guiana and Martinique. In French Guiana, the unemployment rate in 2000 was 25.8 percent—a marginal decrease of less than 1 percent from the year before. In Martinique, unemployment in absolute terms declined considerably from 48,667 unemployed in 1999 to 43,521 in 2000. The CDF are highly dependent upon the French government for job creation, and unemployment rates would be considerably higher without the support of the government service sector.