Under British law, all workers have the right to establish unions except those in law enforcement and the military. The 1999 Employment Relations Act reformed the regulations concerning unions and workers' rights. The law formalizes a worker's right to strike. In addition, the law mandates that all companies with 20 or more employees must allow unionization. About 30 percent of the British workforce is unionized. Union membership is highest in the construction and manufacturing sectors. The number of strikes in the United Kingdom has decreased by 43 percent since 1990. Among the 15 members of the EU, the United Kingdom had the sixth-lowest strike rate. On average, British companies lost 12 days per year per 1,000 workers due to strikes.
Forced labor is illegal, and children under the age of 16 are not allowed to be employed as industrial workers. The national minimum wage is US$5.50 per hour, but youths under the age of 18 may be paid a lower rate of US$4.75 per hour. Currently about 1.5 million British workers earn the minimum wage. New labor legislation enacted in 1999 established a 48-hour maximum work week. However, the average work week for most workers is between 37.5 and 40 hours. People employed in the financial sector tend to have shorter hours, while those employed in construction and other forms of manual labor have longer work weeks. Workers also receive mandatory rest periods after 4 hours of work each day and at least one day's rest per week (most Britons work a 5-day work week). Laws mandate additional pay for overtime work. In addition, national laws require that full-time workers receive a minimum of 4 weeks paid vacation per year.
Flexible work schedules (allowing workers to choose when to work their hours during the week) are becoming popular among both employers and employees. In 2000, 24 percent of all British workers reported some flexibility in their schedules. Workers who telecommute (use a computer to work from their home) make up 1 percent of the workforce.
One major problem that continues to affect British workers is a lack of mobility. British workers seldom change geographic location, even if they are unemployed. British workers are traditionally reluctant to change jobs and have one of the lowest rates of job transfer in the EU. In order to overcome this social phenomenon, the government has enacted a variety of worker retraining programs. Worker retraining in the United Kingdom increased by 8 percent from 1995 to 2000.