International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS)

The ICLS is a vehicle for standard-setting in labour statistics, hosted by the ILO every five years.


The ICLS makes recommendations on selected topics of labour statistics in the form of resolutions and guidelines, which are then approved by the Governing Body of the ILO before becoming part of the set of international standards on labour statistics. These standards usually relate to concepts, definitions, classifications and other methodological procedures which are agreed as representing ‘best practice’ in the respective areas. When used by national producers, these will increase the likelihood of having internationally comparable labour statistics as well as comparability across time within a country. 

Each ICLS provides a rare opportunity for labour statisticians from the different regions to meet each other and exchange views and experiences.


The ILO Governing Body decides on the agenda of an ICLS following proposals by the Department of Statistics. The topics to be considered are identified on the basis of the recommendations of earlier ICLS sessions, the work of the Department in a particular field, through other ILO programmes or signals received from users, national producers and regional and international organizations. For example, for the 17th ICLS, the topics consumer price indices and household income and expenditure statistics were identified through discussions at international meetings, labour underutilization through discussions with member States; union density and social security from ongoing ILO work; working time from the 16th ICLS and decent work indicators and informal economy from the policy priorities of the ILO.

The main items on the agenda of the ICLS are those being considered for standard-setting. Meanwhile, other items are for discussion with a view to having guidance on the future work programme of the ILO, including future development, updating of standards or guidelines.

How the standard setting process works

The work of the ICLS is carried out on the basis of reports prepared by the ILO, one each for the main items and a general report for the others. The report on a subject contains proposals for a draft resolution, the first version of which in most instances would have been submitted to a Meeting of Experts for review and advice. Subsequent to the Meeting, the ILO continues its research and consultation activities to improve the draft proposals, taking into consideration the discussions and recommendations of the Meeting. Thus, the report prepared for the ICLS reflects detailed methodological research and analysis that are often of help to national statistics offices.

The reports are first briefly presented at a plenary session of the ICLS and then discussed in detail and amended, if necessary, by Committees that meet during the Conference. The resulting proposals from the Committees are then further debated at a plenary session before being adopted as amended (or rejected) by the Conference. The tradition is that decisions at the ICLS are taken on the basis of consensus with only occasional voting on particular points of a resolution. As much as possible, the standards adopted by the ICLS reflect “best practice” but they are not prescriptive, because of the differences that exist in statistical development, resources and infrastructure in the countries in which they are to be implemented.

Changes in the world of work and practices in official statistics, improvements in technology, methodological advances and new insights from experience make it necessary to revisit the same topics and review their existing standards over several ICLS sessions. A wide range of subjects have been discussed at the ICLS with some appearing on the agenda several times. The most frequent subjects are wages and hours of work (discussed at nearly all the ICLS meetings), the classification of occupations, occupational injuries and unemployment. 

Almost 100 years of setting standards in labour statistics

The first ICLS took place in 1923 and the latest one in October 2018. The forthcoming 21st ICLS takes place in 2023.

20th ICLS (2018)

The Conference adopted four resolutions concerning statistics on work relationships, child labour and the methodology of SDG indicators on labour rights and youth employment.

19th ICLS (2013)

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.

18th ICLS (2008)

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.

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.