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20th International Conference of Labour Statisticians

“Making the invisible visible”

The 20th ILO International Conference of Labour Statisticians opened in Geneva on 10 October 2018. An interview with Rafael Diez de Medina, Director of ILO Statistics, about some of the key issues on the agenda.

Comment | 09 October 2018
Rafael Diez de Medina
The International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) is the global standard-setting body of labour statisticians, and has been convened by the ILO since 1923.

The ICLS agrees the definitions of the basic concepts used by labour statisticians which are then used globally for the analysis and measurement of the world of work. Rafael Diez de Medina, Director of the Department of Statistics, took time during preparations to explain some of the key issues on the agenda and share some of his hopes for the ILO as a knowledge-based organization.

What are some of the key issues that the ICLS will discuss?

Together with its traditional role, this time the ICLS is particularly forward-looking. Traditionally, classic definitions have sometimes proved to be too narrow. New forms of work are developing, and employer-employee relationships are changing.

We have been working with constituents on ground-breaking new ways of classifying work relationships and measuring the non-standard forms of work that the ILO discusses at the policy level.

Another major area of interest is related to the SDGs. The SDG framework has been a landmark for all areas of development. The ILO is the custodian agency for monitoring several SDG indicators, and is mandated to assist member States to collect and disseminate data and statistics as a basis for measuring progress on decent work-related SDG targets.

Countries are obliged to report on the implementation achievements of the SDGs, and we will launch a handbook to assist countries to measure how successful they have been in achieving the SDGs. The ILO will help these countries to produce indicators and equip them with the tools to gather more and better data.

In 2013, statisticians defined the concept of work for the first time. Work was defined in a way that is not limited to paid employment, but includes unpaid work, volunteer work, traineeships, and so on.

Now many countries are already using these statistical standards to measure employment as well as other forms of work in a uniform way, but we need to have all countries implementing them. We are launching new tools precisely to help them speed up this process of adoption.

How does the ICLS relate to the Future of Work Initiative?

Our discussions will address a range of issues related to the future of work. The diversification of forms of employment, in part due to an increase in non-standard forms of work, often fuelled by globalization, needs to be captured in statistics.

Reality is imposed on statisticians, sometimes even before they can react, hence the great need for innovation and change in statistical systems. We need to more effectively capture metrics and trends on new occupations and developments, to empower policy-makers to understand and act.

How can economic and social development be adequately measured? Measuring beyond GDP has been one of the concerns of the Global Commission on the Future of Work. For example, unpaid work, labour force mobility as well as the quality of work should be integrated in the discussion, and will be increasingly relevant in the future. Incorporating what the ICLS decided in 2013 and will do now in 2018 will certainly be helpful to complement classical measures like GDP.

What do you see as the major priorities for the ILO as a knowledge-based organization?

As a knowledge-based organization, the importance placed by the ILO on statistics aims to consolidate its position as the world reference on labour statistics, and as the main repository of timely data on decent work.

The ILO needs to be more-fact based. We are a value-driven organization, which is important, but we need to build our policy advice to our partners and constituents using convincing evidence and facts.

The ILO Programme and Budget includes cross-cutting issues and all outcomes have a statistical dimension. The ILO needs to work in a coordinated way to allow statistics to be an integral part of our work, so that our policy work will be based on facts and evidence.

The SDGs highlight the need for constituents to collect quality data. So much of the challenge for the ILO is to work with our partners in the implementation of statistical standards across all regions. To achieve this, we have been strengthening our capacity in the field to work with countries directly, as well as through the Turin Centre and others.

At the global level, the ILO chaired for two years the UN Intersecretariat Working Group on Household Surveys. This has promoted the interaction with the other major international players in the collection of statistics, including the World Bank, UNICEF, FAO and UN Women, among others, and has strengthened the recognition of the ILO.

We also actively participate in the UN Statistical Commission, which is a body of ECOSOC bringing together all the statistical agencies of the world.

What I would like to see is an integration of the statistical dimension and reliable data into our wider knowledge management approach. Better statistics can ensure that the analytical side of our work is solid and reliable, and this will also help us to improve our focus and impact in our programming. EVAL and PROGRAM have been strengthening the use of statistics and indicators in their work. We are moving in the right direction, but much more needs to be done.

What are your hopes for the Centenary in 2019?

The Centenary is an important opportunity to raise the profile and position the ILO globally. We must use the Centenary to convince more people that decent work and the core issues that are at the heart of the ILO’s mandate are relevant to all.

Our work can help make the invisible visible, and give prominence to the critical issues that need to be addressed by policy-makers.