In 2001, employment amounted to an estimated 1.92 million. Services accounted for 65% of employment, with industry accounting for 25% and agriculture the remaining 10% of the labor force. Before 1978, New Zealand had maintained virtually full employment, but the oil crisis had a major impact, and from 1978, unemployment climbed from about 3% to 10.6% in 1991. After peaking in 1991–92, unemployment was reduced to 5.5% by 2001.
The Industrial Relations Act of 1973 restructured New Zealand's industrial legislation and institutions, setting up three bodies to aid in the settlement of disputes: the Industrial Mediation Service, the Industrial Conciliation Service, and the Industrial Commission. The Commission is involved only if conciliation fails, and its arbitration is binding. The 1973 act also provides for the right to strike, although there are restrictions once a dispute is before conciliation. Higher unemployment and lower welfare benefits created a decreased willingness for workers to strike. In 1984, there were 364 work stoppages; by 1990 that number had fallen to 137, and in 1999 to 35. Legislation enacted in 1991 prohibits strikes designed to force an employer to become a party to a multi-company contract. Compulsory unionization during the 1936–61 period resulted in the creation of many small unions; the law was modified in 1962, and abolished in 1991 with the Employment Contracts Act, which radically deregulated the labor market and put the employer-employee relationship on a civil contract basis. In 1987, the private sector Federation of Labor and the public sector Combined State Unions merged to form the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU). A smaller federation, the New Zealand Trade Union Federation, was formed in 1993.
In 2001, the minimum wage rate was $3.20 per hour for workers over 18 years of age. The minimum for those between 16 and 18 years old is 60% of the adult minimum. Employment may not interfere with education. By law, employees in most occupations have a 40-hour workweek, eight hours a day, five days a week. Excess hours are generally paid at overtime rates. Legislation or industrial contracts secure sick leave, paid holidays, and accident compensation for all workers. The safety, health and welfare benefits, holiday provisions, hours of work, and overtime of all workers are closely regulated.