The labor force numbered 2.3 million in 1999. Agriculture accounted for 85% of the workforce, particularly in small farming communities and isolated villages. Legislation covers working conditions and wages, and provides for collective bargaining. The Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress is the main union federation. About one-half of the wage earners were unionized, and there were about 50 trade unions. Unions have the right to organize and bargain collectively but the government may cancel wage agreements if they are deemed to be against "public policy." The right to strike is protected, and it is prohibited to discriminate against union activity. However, there have been some reports of retaliation against union members. Approximately half of the 250,000 wage earners are union members.
The minimum working age is 18, although children may be employed in family-related work as young as 11. However, few children work in any capacity outside of subsistence farming. The minimum weekly wage in urban areas was $9.87 as of 2001. The law provides for minimum occupational health and safety standards; however, due to a shortage of inspectors, workplaces are not inspected regularly but only when a union or worker requests.