Overview and topics of labour statistics

Labour statistics describe the size, structure, characteristics, outputs and contributions of the participants in the labour market and how these change over time. From an economic perspective, these statistics are useful to analyse, evaluate and monitor the way the economy is performing and the effectiveness of current and longer term economic policies. From a social perspective, they are useful to achieve decent work, through policies and programmes for job creation, training and retraining schemes, and assistance for vulnerable groups, including the young, the aged, women, etc., in finding and securing decent employment.

Conventionally, labour statistics cover a wide range of topics related to the world of work. They include statistics on the size and structure of the economically active population, including

  • the employed population and its subgroups, including the underemployed population, those working in the informal economy, child workers, migrant workers, etc;
  • and the unemployed population.

These two population groups comprise the economically active population, which together with the economically inactive population, make up the three mutually exclusive and exhaustive groups of the total population in a country. Among the economically inactive population, two population groups are increasingly acknowledged to be important. One consists of persons who produce services for the consumption of their households (providers of services for own household consumption) which at present are not accounted for in national production statistics and therefore are not considered as employed. Their contribution to the well being of the population is increasingly recognised. The other group consists of persons who would like to work and are available to do so, but who do not look actively for work for various reasons (discouraged workers). Generally, they are not considered as unemployed in national statistics, even though it is acknowledged that they exert an important pressure on the labour market for jobs.

In addition, labour statistics covers information on the characteristics of the employed and unemployed population, including:

  • the income from employment of paid and self employed persons during a particular period as well as the earnings of persons in paid employment;
  • their working time;
  • their participation in strikes and lockouts, union participation, collective bargaining and other social dialogue characteristics;
  • their occupational injuries and diseases resulting from exposure to risk factors at work;
  • their occupations;
  • their status in employment;
  • the industry or branch of economic activity of the establishment where they work;
  • the institutional sector (whether corporation, household, public);
  • the demand for labour or vacancies,
  • the cost of employing labour, or labour cost,
  • the extent and characteristics of their social security coverage,
  • their training experience (lifelong learning),
  • the income and expenditures of the households where they live.

Linked very closely to labour statistics because of its importance when determining minimum wages and real wages and incomes is the consumer price index, which measures the changes over time in the general level of prices of the goods and services that the population acquires, uses or pays for as consumption.

The above topics are conventionally covered in national programmes of labour statistics, as established by Convention (No. 160), and international guidelines on their measurement exist in the form of international resolutions and guidelines, adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians.