Overview and topics of labour statistics

As part of its remit for setting international standards, the ILO has developed a variety of standards covering different areas of labour statistics. These standards include definitions of relevant concepts, operational definitions and guidance on implementation. The latest internationally agreed recommendations and guidelines on their measurement are contained in the Resolutions and Guidelines adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS). The latest statistical definitions for some of the core topics in labour statistics are presented in this section.

Labour statistics cover a wide range of topics related to the world of work. They include statistics about different forms of work as well as statistics about labour markets.

Work statistics

Work statistics relate to the productive activities of people. That is, activities performed by persons, regardless of their sex or age, to produce goods or provide services for use by others or for their own use. These activities include different forms of work, such as:

Statistics about participation in these different forms of work are essential to support evidence-based policymaking and analysis. They provide information about the work patterns of different groups of the population, the time spent in these activities, their characteristics and working conditions. Such information is used in the formulation of a wide range of social and economic policies targeting the population as a whole, as well as particular groups, such as children, youth, women and men, and geographic regions, in particular urban and rural areas. It also forms the basis to evaluate the contribution of these different forms of work to macroeconomic output (e.g. GDP and satellite accounts), to household livelihoods, to community well-being and social cohesion.

The form of work employment serves as basis for the preparation of labour market statistics. Joint analysis of participation in employment and in other forms of work likewise supports a better understanding of labour market participation by highlighting, for example, issues related to gender disparities in the division of labour between employment and own-use production work, and lack of access to labour markets and/or to markets for products in rural areas.

In addition, special emphasis on the situation of working children is provided by child labour statistics, which cover detailed information on the participation of children in the different forms of work and in various types of child labour or work to be abolished, so as to support national programmes for the elimination of child labour.

Labour market statistics

Labour market statistics focus, in particular, on various aspects of labour markets and how these change over time. They comprise statistics about labour demand and about labour supply.

Statistics about labour demand include information about the number and characteristics of enterprises, jobs, the costs of hiring labour (i.e. labour costs) and the demand for labour (vacancies).

Statistics about labour supply describe the size, structure, characteristics and attachment to the labour market of the working age population. This includes information about people in employment, unemployment, the labour force and people not in the labour force but with an unmet need for employment.

For users with a particular interest in information about the degree of access to and integration in labour markets by different groups of the population, there are a variety of indicators of labour underutilization that include:

From an economic perspective, labour market statistics are useful to analyse, evaluate and monitor the way the economy is performing and the effectiveness of current and longer term economic policies in generating employment. From a social perspective, they are useful to support the achievement of decent work, through policies and programmes for job creation, job training and retraining schemes, work-life balance, and assistance for vulnerable groups, including the young, the aged, women, etc., in finding and securing decent employment.

To provide a more comprehensive picture of the world of work, labour statistics, in addition, cover information on important characteristics related to the jobs and other work activities of the population and the establishments or economic units in which they work, including such aspects as:

  • Working time
  • Status in employment
  • Occupation
  • Formal/informal nature
  • Industry or branch of economic activity
  • Type of economic unit
  • Institutional sector
  • Income
  • Social dialogue (e.g. participation in strikes and lockouts, union membership, collective bargaining)
  • Occupational injuries and diseases resulting from exposure to risk factors at work
  • Social security coverage

Linked very closely to labour statistics because of their importance for assessing household living conditions and for determining minimum wages and real wages and incomes are statistics on household income and expenditure and the consumer price index, which measures the changes over time in the general level of prices of the goods and services that the population purchases for consumption.

The above topics are generally covered in national programmes of labour statistics, as established by Convention (No. 160).