What's on the agenda?
Informality | SDG indicators | Violence and harassment at work | the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO) | International labour migration | Child labour | Forced labour | Cooperatives
Almost 100 years of setting standards in labour statistics
Since its inception in 1919, the ILO has been involved in statistical activities. Article 10.1 of the Constitution of the Organization requires "the collection and distribution of information on all subjects relating to the international adjustment of conditions of individual life and labour."
The ILO Bureau of Statistics began collecting labour statistics in the early 1920s with national figures of prices and unemployment, which were published in the International Labour Review as from its first issue in 1921.
The purpose of the Conference was to consider the problems involved in the compilation of labour statistics and to agree, if possible, upon certain methods and standards with a view to rendering labour statistics more comparable across countries.
The Governing Body debated the agenda of this first Conference at some length. The subjects finally chosen were:
- Classification of Industries and Occupations;
- Statistics of Wages and Hours of Labour;
- Statistics of Industrial Accidents.
Thirty-three countries were represented, including almost every European State, and countries as far distant as Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, and India.
Since 1924, questionnaires have been sent out to ministries of labour or national statistical services to collect information for the October Inquiry and, since 1935, for the Year Book.
It was the First ICLS which recommended that the ILO should take over a survey, initiated a few years earlier by the British Ministry of Labour, to collect data on wages and food prices in 16 capital cities. Later known as the "ILO October Inquiry" because of its reference period, the survey was carried out from 1924 to 2010, providing a unique set of international wage and price data going back over 70 years.
The Conference agenda included the classification of industries; cost-of-living index numbers; unemployment statistics; and international comparisons of real wages.
The Conference discussed the classification of industries; family budget surveys; statistics of collective agreements; and statistics of strikes and lockouts.
The object of the fourth Conference was a different one, and arose out of a special enquiry undertaken by the ILO some years prior. Its focus was on international comparisons of real wages.
Data on employment were soon added to the figures on prices and unemployment, and over the years the subjects covered gradually expanded to include wages, hours of work, industrial disputes and collective agreements. Time series on each of these topics were published in the Year Book of Labour Statistics, which was first issued in 1935.
The Conference set to the agenda to include employment and payroll statistics; unemployment statistics; wartime and post-war developments in methods and techniques; and industrial accident statistics.
The Conference agenda included the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO); statistics of payrolls and earnings; methods of family living studies; methods of statistics of productivity of labour; and the Resolution of the Chemical Industries Committee of the ILO concerning the standardisation of statistics of accidents and occupational diseases. The majority of the items had been proposed by the Sixth ICLS.
The Conference discussed the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO); international comparisons of real wages; and employment and unemployment statistics.
The Conference adopted eight resolutions concerning the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO); social security statistics; measurement of underemployment; consumer prices; statistics of employment injuries (including occupational diseases); and the publication of statistical documents.
To provide users with information about the statistics it compiled and published, the Bureau launched a series of Technical Guides in 1964. These were issued every two years from 1968 to 1980, when a new, more detailed series of Sources and methods: Labour statistics was introduced. Preparing the methodological descriptions on the different subjects provided valuable insight into the methods used by countries, essential for the Bureau's developmental work for the international standards.
Starting in 1971, the ILO started to publish comparable estimates and projections of population, of the labour force and age-sex specific activity rates for all countries, territories, and major geographical groupings. The series still exist, with many more econometric models created since to provide global and regional estimates for additional indicators.
The Conference agenda included statistics of wages and employee income and the scope, method and uses of family expenditures surveys.
The Conference adopted two resolutions: on labour force, employment, unemployment and underemployment and on statistics of occupational injuries; and discussed the revision of the ILO October Inquiry on occupational wages; international coding of labour statistics; and statistics of paid holidays.
The Conference adopted eight resolutions concerning consumer price indices; industrial disputes: statistics of strikes; the revision of the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO); and on future work.
The Conference adopted resolutions concerning statistics of strikes, lockouts and other forms of industrial action; statistics of employment in the informal sectors; and the revision of the International Classification according to Status in Employment (ICSE).
The Conference adopted resolutions concerning the measurement of underemployment, the measurement of income from employment, and statistics of occupational injuries.
1999 marked the launch of the Web-based application of LABORSTA, the main statistical database of the ILO, which in reality was a set of ILO statistical databases covering all subjects for which the ILO was a custodian under the UN system.
The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – which range from halving extreme poverty rates to providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015 – formed a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions. The MDGs came with 8 goals, 60 indicators and 21 targets to monitor progress.
Within the UN system, the ILO takes the lead in reporting on trends concerning the achievement of full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people (Target 1B).
The Conference adopted three resolutions concerning: household income and expenditure statistics, consumer price indices, and further work on the International Standard Classification of Occupations.
The Conference adopted resolutions concerning statistics of working time and child labour; logistics of the Conference; and further work on measuring labour underutilization and decent work.
The Conference adopted five resolutions concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization; further work on forced labour, cooperatives and labour migration; and the functioning of the Conference.
The 2030 Agenda embraces three dimensions of sustainability – economic, social and environmental. It has 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that put people and planet at its centre, giving the international community a framework for tackling the many challenges confronting humanity, including those in the world of work.
The importance of decent work in achieving sustainable development is highlighted by Goal 8 which aims to “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all”.
The ILO contributes to five Goals and is custodian for 14 SDG indicators.
The Conference adopted four resolutions concerning statistics on work relationships, child labour and the methodology of SDG indicators on labour rights and youth employment.
The information in this timeline is based on ICLS reports and the ILO document 75 years of international labour statistics.
About standards and guidelines on labour statistics
International standards on labour statistics are of two types: Conventions and Recommendations, adopted by the International Labour Conference (ILC), and Resolutions and Guidelines adopted by the ICLS.