The Stroessner government placed strict controls on labor unions and maintained low minimum wages from 1960s through the 1980s. As a result, labor union activism was low in Paraguay until the very late 1980s, when unions began to garner more political influence. As several labor unions emerged around 1990, the Unitary Workers Central, the Paraguayan Workers Confederation, and the National Workers Central all became strong political interest groups in Paraguay. The Paraguayan Workers Confederation (CPT) had 60,000 official members as of 1985, but claimed to represent 90 percent of the workforce. The CPT refused to comply with workers' strikes due to government control, and the union lost its membership in the International Labor Organization (ILO). Despite this new union activism in the 1990s, labor laws have improved very little. Only a small percentage of the workforce receives benefits like pensions, pay in times of illness, and medical care. Wages have only slightly increased in the late twentieth century.
Roughly 45 percent of the labor force works in agriculture, largely in subsistence farming. Though some of these workers receive government subsidies, they have no benefits or security and suffer from the changing climate and the fluctuation of the world market. The few workers who do receive benefits work in urban areas. As of 1998, unemployment had reached 12 percent, up 4 percent from 1996. An increasingly industrialized economy continues to threaten the jobs of farmers, still a considerable portion of the workforce.
Women in the workplace earn substantially less than men do, despite equal or greater education. Women with 6 years of education or less earn only half of men's salaries in equivalent jobs, while women having 7-13 years of education earn only 60-70 percent of men's salaries for the same positions. Women outnumber men in professional and technical occupations, but women occupy only 20 percent of the nation's administration and management jobs and only 5 percent of higher-level occupations. Social security does pay women on maternity leave half of their salary for a period of 12 weeks.