According to official statistics, about one-third of the workforce is not "economically active." These people are mainly village-based subsistence workers, a disproportionate number of whom are women, who are producing goods and services that are not exchanged for cash. Many of these aspire to become part of the country's formal sector. The situation for those who want wage employment does not appear good. It is estimated that of the 2,000 school graduates each year, only about 500 will find work in the formal sector. The rest must either return to the subsistence economy, continue job searching and become officially unemployed, or migrate. It is the latter option that many choose, and this partly explains why there are an estimated 50,000 Tongans living in other countries.
In the formal sector, about 37 percent of the work-force is female. While it is difficult to calculate, about 12 percent of the labor force is said to be unemployed. There is no comprehensive system of unemployment compensation, nor is there a general pension scheme. The country does not have a minimum wage law; workers did have some amount of protection in that they could live without a monetary income with the support of extended families and subsistence farming , if needed. There is no legal provision for labor unions in Tonga, although 2 associations that represent working groups are the Tonga Nurses' Association and the Friendly Islands Teachers' Association.