The estimated workforce numbered 7,000 in 2001. The economy relies primarily on subsistence ventures including fishing, and gathering coconuts. Many laborers work abroad and send wages home. In Funafuti, the government-controlled philately bureau is the largest single employer, with a staff of several dozen workers. The nation's only trade union, the Tuvalu Seamen's Union, has about 600 members who work abroad on foreign merchant vessels. The nearly 1,000 public employees in Tuvalu were not unionized as of 2002, but do belong to associations. The law protects the right to strike, but no strike has ever occurred.
The minimum working age is 14 (15 for industrial employment). Generally children do not work outside of the traditional economy. The minimum age for shipboard employment is 18. As of 2002, the biweekly minimum wage was $75.66. The law sets the workday at eight hours. Basic health and safety standards, such as clean drinking water, are mandated by law but irregularly enforced.