Working conditions in Turkmenistan have declined since independence, chiefly because the government has made almost no progress toward economic reform. Most Turkmens are employed in state enterprises and guaranteed a minimum wage. The CIA World Factbook reported that the labor force consisted of 2.34 million people (roughly 50 percent of the population) in 1996. Some sources indicate that the labor force is declining due to emigration and relative population stagnation. The majority of the population works in agriculture and decreased productivity and failing infrastructure means growing impoverishment for most Turkmens. Extremely limited privatization in rural areas also will lead to distressing economic and social conditions in the near future.
A Soviet-style trade union, the Federation of Trade Unions, is the only labor union in Turkmenistan. The government does not permit collective bargaining. The political environment acts as a sufficient obstacle to independent union formation and activity, however. Child labor laws are comprehensive, although children in rural areas often must work. Moreover, high school students are often deployed in the fields during intensive harvest periods, particularly in cotton fields. Women make up a significant percentage of the workforce, although they face discrimination. Labor disputes often go unresolved because the judiciary serves at the pleasure of the president, who appoints and can dismiss them at will.