Agriculture and fishing support most of the population. Laborers for the plantation sector come from mainland Africa and Cape Verde on a contract basis; Angola, Mozambique, and Nigeria are the major sources of contract labor. Plantation laborers gained a 400% wage increase on the eve of independence. Soon after, labor disruptions and the reorganization of production reduced the output of plantation crops.
Unemployment can reach up to 50% of the workforce, largely because of the unpopularity of plantation work among the Fôrros. Unrelated to the former sole union (an affiliate of the MLSTP), or any political party, the Independent Union Federation (IUF) was formed in 1992 to take advantage of freedom of association provisions now in the constitution. Workers may organize and bargain collectively. However, the IUF has had little luck in organizing the workers on the large state-owned plantations. The government remains the primary mediator for labor, even though privatization has reduced the relative role of the government as an employer.
While the minimum age for employment is legally set at 18, children occasionally do work, especially on state-run plantations. Conditions on the largest state-owned plantations—the nation's largest job sector—have been described as "medieval." The free housing and medical care, which the workers are promised, are inadequate. Food and clothing, supposed to be provided at low cost in "company stores," are typically more expensive than on the open market. Safety and health regulations are ineffectually enforced. The minimum wage is legally set at $14 per month. The workweek is set at 40 hours, but this is only practiced in the modern economic sector.