Urban labour markets in developing countries often have a formal sector, usually comprising the government itself and the modern manufacturing sector, and an informal sector comprising small family-owned enterprises that usually lie outside the purview of government labour regulations. In some countries, labour markets are reasonably efficient and wage differentials are determined largely by differences in education and experience. But in others there are large wage differentials for unskilled labour between the formal and informal sectors; and high rates of urban unemployment, especially for educated labour, are common. Some wage differentials can arise as a result of sex, ethnic or race discrimination and can be corrected only through education and social and cultural change. Other differentials may be due to minimum wage laws, payroll taxes and the hiring practices of the public sector.
2. Payroll taxes, by means of which many governments, especially in Latin America, tax employers on the number of their employees. Industries with relatively high payroll taxes tend to pay lower wages, which passes nearly all the tax onto the workers. But when a binding minimum wage law or strong workers' union prevents wages from falling, the effect of a payroll tax on employment is identical to an increase in the legal minimum wage.
3. Public sector wage policy as an important force in the determination of wages. Pay scales for unskilled workers in the public sector are generally higher than in the private sector and are usually unresponsive to labour market conditions. These pay scales often extend to public industrial enterprises, where managers usually do not have the same discretion as their private sector counterparts in dealing with their staff. The consequent loss in competitiveness can be transmitted to the rest of the industrial sector, particularly if the output of public industrial enterprises is used as input by the rest of the industrial sector.
4. Limiting the freedom of employers to lay off workers. Even where reductions in the work force are allowed, employers are sometimes required by law to provide severance payments based on wage and length of service. These legal provisions can make it difficult to respond to changes in demand and production requirements. They raise the effective cost of labour and lead managers to substitute capital for labour. And legally guaranteed job security reduces the incentives of workers and managers to increase their productivity. Panama introduced a labour code in 1972 that restricted layoffs of workers with more than two years of employment. A decline in private sector investment followed, and over the next few years employment fell much faster than output. Eventually, firms began to discharge workers before they had two years of seniority.