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21st International Conference of Labour Statisticians

Statisticians adopt new standards on measuring informal employment

The new standards will help countries collect better data and so devise improved policies for workers in the informal economy.

Press release | 23 October 2023
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GENEVA (ILO News) – The 21st International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) has adopted new standards on the informal economy that will enable countries to collect better data and make better policies for workers employed in the informal economy.

The resolution was passed at the centennial ICLS, held at the headquarters of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland, between 11-20 October.

Two billion people worldwide work in the informal economy, often with no labour protections or social security coverage and in poor working conditions. Yet, little is known about these workers and their circumstances, hampering the ability of governments to develop targeted policies or track policy effectiveness.

The new standards will provide an extensive range of definitions of key concepts, enabling the generation of high-quality information while allowing some flexibility to reflect different realities in the systems and laws of countries.

The standards cover working conditions and other characteristics of work. They will also be relevant to unpaid work other than employment, such as volunteer work and subsistence farming.

“Decent work deficits can be brutal for those who rely on informal work to live and feed their families. That’s almost 60 per cent of employed people in the world today - or two billion people,” said ILO Director-General, Gilbert F. Houngbo. “This is why I am very glad to see the work you have done in adopting new standards on informality. These new standards will give countries a solid platform that will allow them to generate more accurate data. And that in turn will raise the profile of informal work.”

Three additional resolutions were endorsed during the conference to bring existing standards into line with recent developments in the world of work. These cover the measurement of employment-related income, statistics on household income and expenditure, and statistics on work, employment and labour underutilization.

The conference also agreed to pursue future work, such as updating the classification of occupations, labour migration, digital platform work and skills and care work.

Closing the conference, ICLS chairperson and Chief Statistician of Canada, Anil Arora, said, “Statistics Canada remains a strong supporter and contributor to the work of the ICLS, benefiting from world class standards that allow for better cohesion and comparability in areas important to our society, economy, and the environment.”

Referring to the centennial year of the conference, ILO Chief Statistician, Rafael Diez de Medina said, “I would reiterate my homage to our predecessors, those pioneers since 1923 who met in Geneva for the first time. Many events have passed since but the goal is the same; provide a more accurate focus on the world of work, particularly to shed light for policies. As labour statisticians we have an important responsibility and an outstanding role to play. We should never avoid challenges, no matter how difficult they may appear.”

About 500 participants from around 140 countries attended the conference, including representatives from governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations, as well as observers from many international and non-governmental organizations.