As the year 2000 came to an end, government statistics indicated that Georgia had a labor force of 2.06 million people, 8.4 percent of whom were unemployed. Official unemployment figures are deceptively low and do not accurately reflect economic realities. Most Georgians consider their chances of securing a job by registering themselves with the authorities as low, and they are not attracted by unemployment compensation. To qualify for standard monthly unemployment benefits, an applicant must have worked in the official sector and, even then, would only be entitled to receive benefits for the first 6 months of unemployment. The payments are fixed at GEL14 for the first 2 months, GEL12 for the third and fourth months, and GEL11 for the final period. On average, 2 percent of registered unemployed workers qualify for benefits.
Government labor force survey results for the last quarter of 2000 suggested that urban unemployment stood at 24.7 percent compared to a rural unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. The capital, T'bilisi, accounted for 41 percent of the country's unemployed. While the rural rate might seem encouraging, 65 percent of those in the countryside were self-employed. Indeed, agricultural self-employment comprised 86.5 percent of those described as self-employed and most lived below the poverty line.
The role of trade unions in Georgia is exceptionally weak, largely due to the poor state of key economic sectors. Strikes and other forms of industrial protest are meaningless against a backdrop of idle and bankrupt firms that are often unable to pay employees. Many employees continue to work in the hope that one day their salary arrears will be paid, a hope that evaporates if they cease working.
While there is no official discrimination against women, Georgia is a patriarchal society and in many menial jobs women are paid as little as half of what their male counterparts earn. Mass unemployment, however, has affected males disproportionately and upset traditional gender relations. Women have proved more successful at securing high-paid jobs with international organizations, which usually require proficiency in foreign languages.