Because the Peruvian population is so young—with 53.8 percent of the population under the age of 25—the working-age population is growing by 300,000 people a year. The U.S. State Department's 2001 Human Rights Report estimates the workforce to number 8.5 million, of whom 5 percent are unionized. Official unemployment, according to the International Labor Organization, was 10 percent in 2000, but even the government admits that the statistics are misleading. An estimated 60 percent of the population is underemployed. The workforce remains largely unskilled, with many skilled laborers leaving the country to search for work abroad. An estimated 1 million Peruvians now live abroad, the majority of them in the United States or Spain.
The government raised the monthly minimum wage to the equivalent of US$117 in March 2000. The U.S. State Department estimates that more than half the work-force earns less than the minimum wage.
The government began dismantling labor laws in the early 1990s as part of the efforts to streamline the economy, open the country to foreign investment, and privatize state-run industries. As a result, labor union activity has declined substantially with the Construction Workers Union and Teachers Union the only 2 organizations retaining a nationwide profile. Strikes called in 1999 and 2000 had little national importance. Under current laws, strikes not approved by the government are illegal.
The 1992 labor law made striking and collective bargaining difficult. While collective bargaining is legal, the law says it can only be carried out if it is "in harmony with broader social objectives." Local and international labor groups also complain about provisions that allow companies to hire 30 percent of the workforce on an "internship" basis, meaning 3-month contracts without social benefits. In addition to government changes to the laws, the Maoist Shining Path guerrillas also made it a policy to infiltrate unions or create their own unions as a way of weakening companies and whole economic sectors. While the Shining Path's leadership was jailed in 1992 and the group has all but disappeared, the stigma it created for unions remains.