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International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS)

The ICLS this past October marked the 100th year of standard-setting in labour statistics since the first one took place in 1923.

What was on the agenda?

How the standard-setting process works

The work of the ICLS is carried out based on ILO reports, 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 typically 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 statistical 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.


The 20th ICLS in review

10 to 19 October 2018 | Geneva, Switzerland

The Conference adopted four resolutions concerning:

  • statistics on work relationships
  • child labour
  • SDG indicator on labour rights
  • SDG indicator on youth employment

About THE

International Conference of Labour Statisticians

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 data producers (for example, national statistical offices), these will increase the likelihood of having internationally comparable labour statistics. 

Each ICLS provides a rare opportunity for labour statisticians throughout the world to meet each other and exchange views and experiences.

The Agenda

The ILO Governing Body decides on the agenda, following proposals by the Department of Statistics. Topics are identified based on recommendations of earlier ICLS sessions, the work of the Department, through other ILO programmes or signals received from users, national producers and regional and international organizations.

The main items on the agenda 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.

The most recurring topics are wages and hours of work (discussed at nearly all the ICLS), the classification of occupations, occupational injuries and unemployment.

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.

Experts in labour statistics from all over the world attend the ICLS. This includes most notably statisticians who work in national statistical offices, ministries of labour and selected representatives of workers’ and employers’ organizations.

No. In general, attendance must be self-funded.

No. Resolutions provide detailed guidance on conceptual frameworks, operational definitions and measurement methodologies to produce and disseminate labour statistics. Their purpose is to provide guidance to countries wishing to develop or revise their national labour statistics programmes, as well as to enhance international comparability. Guidelines provide more general guidance relating to particular areas of interest.

Documents related to the ICLS are organized by session on the ILOSTAT page ICLS documents

100 years of setting standards in labour statistics

Statistics at the ILO
Embedded in the ILO Constitution

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."

Publication of statistics
Statistics on prices and unemployment first to be published

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 ICLS is born
The Governing Body approves the convocation of a Conference of Statisticians engaged in the compilation of labour statistics

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.

Read the report »

ILO October Inquiry
ILO takes over survey to collect data on wages and food prices
Questionnaire dispatch, 2002

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.

2nd ICLS

The Conference agenda included the classification of industries; cost-of-living index numbers; unemployment statistics; and international comparisons of real wages.

Read the report »

3rd ICLS
Statisticians at the 3rd ICLS in 1926

The Conference discussed the classification of industries; family budget surveys; statistics of collective agreements; and statistics of strikes and lockouts.

Read the report » 

4th ICLS

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.

Read the report »

ILO Year Book of Labour Statistics

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.

5th ICLS

The Fifth International Conference of Labour Statisticians was convened in order to provide an opportunity for examination of technical aspects of proposals for the standardisation of statistics of wages and hours of work by means of an International Convention.

Read the report »

Adoption of Convention n° 63

The ILC adopted the Convention concerning Statistics of Wages and Hours of Work, 1938 (No. 63). 

Read the convention »

6th ICLS

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.

Read the report »

7th ICLS

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. 

Read the report »

8th ICLS

The Conference discussed the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO); international comparisons of real wages; and employment and unemployment statistics.

Read the report »

9th ICLS

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.

Read the report »

10th ICLS

The Conference discussed statistics of employment injuries; statistics of hours of work; and special problems in the computation of consumer price index numbers.

Read the report »

Sources and methods
The introduction of technical guides

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.

11th ICLS

The Conference discussed statistics of employment injuries; statistics of hours of work; and special problems in the computation of consumer price index numbers.

Read the report »

Labour force estimates and projections

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. 

Learn more »

12th ICLS

The Conference agenda included statistics of wages and employee income and the scope, method and uses of family expenditures surveys.

Read the report »

13th ICLS

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. 

Read the report » 

Adoption of C160 and R170

The ILC adopted the Labour Statistics Convention and the Labour Statistics Recommendation, which provides further guidance regarding frequency of data collection, recommended disaggregations of the statistics, as well as on national statistical infrastructures.

Read convention C160 »

Read Recommendation R170 »

14th ICLS

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. 

Read the report » 

15th ICLS
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). Read the report »
16th ICLS

The Conference adopted resolutions concerning the measurement of underemployment, the measurement of income from employment, and statistics of occupational injuries.

Read the report »

LABORSTA goes online
The internet age and labour statistics

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.

A new development agenda
MDGs emerge

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). 

Learn more » 

17th ICLS

The Conference adopted three resolutions concerning: household income and expenditure statistics, consumer price indices, and further work on the International Standard Classification of Occupations.

Read the report »

18th ICLS

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.

Read the report »

19th ICLS
A new framework on "work statistics"

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.

Read the report »

SDGs: The Post-2015 Development Agenda
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

Decent work statistics and the Sustainable Development Goals

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.

Learn more »

20th ICLS

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

Read the report »

21st ICLS: Celebrating 100 years!

The Conference adopted four resolutions, most notably on the informal economy and three with amendments (19th ICLS resolution on work and employment, 16th ICLS resolution on employment-related income, and 17th ICLS resolution on household income and expenditure statistics).

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.

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