Reliable official data about Lebanon's labor force are unavailable, but it is estimated that the country's labor force in 1999 was 1.3 million. A 1996 Ministry of Social Affairs survey estimated that there were some 944,282 foreign workers in the country as well. Foreign workers are mostly unskilled laborers from Syria, Asia, India, and Africa, and they are employed mostly in construction, agriculture, industry, and households. Unemployment in the country is high, with official estimates in 1999 set at 10 percent and unofficial estimates reaching as high as 25 percent; the CIA World Factbook reported 1999 unemployment of 18 percent.
Trade unions are allowed in Lebanon and are supported by the government with membership restricted to Lebanese workers. Trade unions operate under the umbrella of the Federation of Labor Unions, which negotiates cost of living adjustments and other social benefits on behalf of the workers. The 48-hour work week is the standard.
Although labor laws protecting the right of workers have been in place since 1964, regulations are rarely enforced, and working conditions in Lebanon are far from ideal. Labor actions, strikes, slow downs, and protests frequently disturb work life, and wages remain relatively low. The largest proportion of the labor force, some 15,000 people, is employed by the financial sector, working in banks and other financial institutions, followed by the manufacturing industry, which employs 15 percent of the labor force.