Suriname has a workforce of around 100,000, of which half either work directly for the government or for government-owned businesses. Attempts to down-size the public sector have caused considerable unrest, leading to mass street demonstrations by opposition groups and labor unions in 1999, which forced President Jules Wijdenbosch from office. Restructuring and the slow pace of economic development has sent the unemployment rate up to 20 percent (1997) and precipitated an exodus of manpower that in 2000 ran to 8.92 Suri-namers per 1,000. Most emigrants tend to be under 30 and well-educated; the literacy rate in Suriname, despite a long-neglected education system, is high (93 percent, according to 1995 estimates), and many speak English. This drain of expertise is likely continue.
The concentration of workers in government departments and large industries has created a powerful role for trade unions in the economy. This role has been further strengthened by the government's traditional sympathy for worker issues, enshrined in the 1947 labor laws that still regulate the labor market and safeguard worker rights. Union membership is high, and unions are instrumental in determining pay scales and wage increases.