The civilian labor force in Taiwan was estimated at 9.8 million in 2001. The share of persons employed in farming, forestry, and fishing has been declining steadily, while the share of the workforce employed in mining, manufacturing, construction, and utilities has increased. As of 2001, about 8% of the labor force was engaged in agriculture, 56% in services, and 36% in industry and commerce. In that year the unemployment rate was estimated to be 4.5%.
Trade unions are weak and cannot be called unions in the real sense of the term, for the law does not provide for effective collective bargaining and also prohibits strikes, shutdowns, and walkouts in vital industries. The trade unions, organized under government supervision, tend to be used for carrying out government policies, but they carry on a considerable amount of welfare work. In 2002, there were 3,854 registered unions in Taiwan, with membership totaling 29% of all employed persons.
The minimum age for employment is 15. Current occupational health and safety regulations provide only minimal protection and have a mixed record of enforcement. The law provides for an eight-hour day (which may be extended to 11 hours for men and 10 for women) and a six-day workweek; overtime is paid at 40–100% above the regular wage. Most large firms give allowances for transportation, meals, housing, and other benefits, which can increase base pay by 60–80%. A minimum of one week's vacation is provided after a year's employment, and there are 14 or 15 other paid holidays. In 2002, the monthly minimum wage was $452. This amount provides a decent standard of living in rural areas, but is not sufficient for urban life.