The Czech Republic's labor force is 5.2 million, and approximately 46 percent of the total Czech population was registered as employed in 1999. In 1999, the rate of unemployment, which registers those actively looking for work, was 9 percent. Unemployment has been on an upward swing since an economic crisis in 1997, but has shown recent signs of stabilizing. Unemployment benefits are available to individuals, and slightly less than half of those registered as unemployed receive these payments.
Prague consistently maintains the lowest level of unemployment in the country. The highest levels of unemployment are in northern Bohemia and in Moravia. Wage levels reflect these differences, with the highest wages in Prague. According to estimated figures for 1997, the majority of those employed—53.7 percent—worked in the service sector. Industry employed 40.7 percent of the workforce, and the remainder—5.6 percent—worked in agriculture. Given the importance of foreign investment in the economy, those individuals who speak English and German have an advantage in the labor market.
The Czech Republic features a system of laws which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, language, religion, faith, political views, and sexual orientation. However, discrimination against the hiring of Roma (Gypsies) persists in practice. There are 28 weeks of maternity leave available, with a possible extension to 3 years. A woman taking maternity leave is provided some income by the social security and health insurance systems, with some contributions by employers.
Workers' unions were a fixture of the communist system. After the end of communism in 1989, the communist-affiliated unions rapidly declined in popularity. Laborers now tend to belong to non-affiliated unions, and approximately two-thirds of all workers are union members.