About 80% of the population is engaged in peasant labor either for subsistence or producing cash crops such as copra. As of 2002, there were approximately 25,000 persons participating in the formal economy as wage earners. The wage-labor force is concentrated in Port-Vila and Luganville.
For persons engaged in government enterprises, port work, construction, and certain other jobs, the terms of employment and wages are set by legislation. The nation's first trade unions were formed in 1984. In 2002 there were seven trade unions; the largest two were the Oil and Gas Workers' Union and the Vanuatu Airline Workers' Union. Union membership has fallen from 4,000 in 1994 to less than 1,000 in 2002.
The law prohibits children under 12 from working. Children between 12 and 18 may work under restricted hours and conditions. The Labor Department effectively enforces these laws. In 2002, the minimum wage was $143 per month for all workers. This does not provide an adequate living and most families subsidize this amount with subsistence farming. The law mandates a 44-hour maximum workweek. The Employment Act provides health and safety standards but these are not effectively enforced.