Working conditions in Barbados are generally good for a workforce estimated at 136,300 in 1998, and there is a strong tradition of consultation between employers and trade unions. Even the small remaining rural work-force is well organized and is capable of negotiating acceptable improvements in wages and conditions. The public sector is particularly well represented and governments are obliged to hold regular consultations with the unions that represent teachers and other civil servants. Pay and working conditions in the service industries are also above average for the region. High levels of literacy are the norm. Legislation is in place against unlawful dismissal and other employer malpractice in Barbados and is mostly observed. All Barbadian workers are part of a National Insurance system that provides sick pay and small retirement pensions.
There is little or no child labor in Barbados, and women are generally offered equal employment opportunities at all levels. A small informal sector exists, mostly catering to tourists, and some women are employed as informal sector beach vendors. The island's remaining problem in social terms is unemployment, which in 1999 affected almost 10 percent of the workforce, a fall from 12.3 percent the previous year.
With relatively high wage levels and regulated employment conditions, Barbadians enjoy a higher standard of living and quality of life than many other Caribbean people. However, in a globalized economy, these advantages are also a disincentive to foreign investors in search of the cheapest possible labor costs.