Sustainable development goals

The numbers game: Measuring progress on the decent work agenda

Where are the gaps in data collection on labour force in South Asia? And, why this affects successful monitoring of the SDG targets? Labour Statistician, Jean-Marie Hakizimana, demystifies key issues.

News | 05 June 2018
New Delhi (ILO NEWS): Reliable and concrete data is key when it comes to measuring labour market trends. It leads to formulation of effective policies on job creation. And access to disaggregated data helps throw light on certain specificities which in turn results in formulation of policies that are inclusive and aimed at the decent work agenda.

Many South Asian countries continue to grapple with weak data collection and reporting systems. Job creation data is often seen as tabulating the number of employed persons. There is a lack of focus on capturing the progress made towards the decent work agenda — wherein both men and women have access to full and productive employment with rights at work, and social protection. Moreover, non coverage of all the players in an economy’s productive activites and insufficient indicators of measuring decent work also impacts the data quality.

So far countries have been reporting on statistics on decent work by mostly looking at patterns of productive activities, working conditions or by targeting special groups such as children, youth, women, migrant workers, and those working in the informal sector or in the rural areas. They miss out collecting statistics from the supply and demand side of labour.

Data gaps

In South Asia most countries use Labour Force Surveys (LFS) as a source of estimating labour supply. Only a few countries are implementing establishment surveys to measure the labour demand. Also often, LFS are conducted irregularly due to a resource crunch Establishment surveys tend to exclude jobs that are generated in the informal economy. All this leads to underreporting and gaps in the labour statistics of the region. These gaps in data sourcing and collection has resulted in a skewed measurement of the 2030 SDG agenda.

Today, some countries are using their own country-specific indicator framework -- similar to the global SDGs indicator framework – to monitor the sustainability goals. But this isn’t the best approach.

Fixing the puzzle

Using international standards in measuring data helps in quantifying the different forms of work, and labour underutilization in South Asian economies. The ILO Statistics Department has set international standards on labour statistics and has listed specifications as to how to go about measuring decent work indicators. This approach allows international comparability across countries and methodological consistency of the labour market information.

The 19th International Conference of Labour Statistician (ICLS) recommendation calls to recognize all paid and unpaid work as productive activities. Countries are advised to start looking at a broader measurement of labour underutilization so as to support the unemployment rate and determine the different forms of unpaid work; particularly in cases of own-use production work that include subsistence farming, unpaid household work and unpaid traineeships or volunteering.

There is also a need to delve deeper into the factors behind the unemployment rate of countries. Unemployment rates are often due to —businesses not being able to provide the jobs, the widening skill gap, or that the trend in the number of job seekers is related to other economic business cycles. It is also seen that most of the poor continue to remain underemployed in precarious and informal jobs.

Measuring women’s access to paid work in labour market statistics is also recommended strongly. Few countries are now testing the implementation of time-use survey to establish the relationship of work and working time. Time-use surveys look at capturing unpaid work, child labour, care work and other forms of work that are often left out in the labour force surveys.

At the ILO the Decent Work Team– a pool of international experts — provides technical assistance to countries in South Asia to improve their data collection. The team advises on the labour force surveys’ questionnaire design, data cleaning, derivation of indicators in line with the adopted ILO standards and guidelines.

The tripartite constituents of the ILO – employers, workers, and government representatives - are also advised to integrate the information from their administrative sources with the survey data. This can aid the development of a comprehensive labour market information system which then serves as a business intelligence tool to guide policy formulation.