Concepts and definitions

Measuring decent work

Making the invisible visible

The International Conference of Labour Statisticians  (ICLS) is the global standard-setting body of labour statisticians, and has been convened by the ILO since 1923.

The ICLS agrees the definitions of the basic concepts used by labour statisticians which are then used globally for the analysis and measurement of the world of work. Rafael Diez de Medina, Director of the Department of Statistics, took time during preparations to explain some of the key issues on the agenda and share some of his hopes for the ILO as a knowledge-based organization.

The restrictions necessary to combat COVID-19 pose a huge obstacle to data collection operations, precisely when there is a massive increase in demand for information. We reached out to national data producers to understand the impacts of the pandemic on their statistical operations particularly in the domain of labour statistics. While international standards remain a sound reference, we provide additional guidance in a series of technical notes COVID-19: Guidance for labour statistics data collection

Table of contents

Statistical standards adopted by the ICLS

Work and labour underutilization

*Replaced by the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization


The ILO established a working group for the revision of the standards for statistics on informality.  The revision will lead to the replacement of the existing standards of informality with a coherent set of statistical standards which conceptually and operationally define the different concepts necessary for measurement of work and economic activity in the informal economy.

Hours, pay and prices

Industrial relations

Child labour and forced labour

Country groupings and international classifications used in labour statistics
Simple definitions of key terms in labour statistics
Earnings relates to gross remuneration in cash and in kind paid to employees, as a rule at regular intervals, for time worked or work done together with remuneration for time not worked, such as annual vacation, other type of paid leave or holidays. Earnings include direct wages and salaries, remuneration for time not worked (excluding severance and termination pay), bonuses and gratuities and housing and family allowances paid by the employer directly to this employee. Earnings exclude employers’ contributions in respect of their employees paid to social security and pension schemes and also the benefits received by employees under these schemes. Earnings also exclude severance and termination pay. For more information, refer to the indicator description.
Persons in employment are defined as all those of working age who, during a short reference period, were engaged in any activity to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit. They comprise employed persons “at work”, i.e. who worked in a job for at least one hour; and employed persons “not at work” due to temporary absence from a job, or to working-time arrangements (such as shift work, flexitime and compensatory leave for overtime). For more information, refer to the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization.
Employment in the informal sector refers all persons who, during a given reference period, were employed in at least one informal sector enterprise, irrespective of their status in employment and whether it was their main or a secondary job. An informal sector enterprise is (1) an unincorporated enterprise and (2) a market enterprise (i.e., it sells at least some of the goods or services it produces), and (3) meets at least one of the following criteria: (i) the enterprise is not registered, (ii) the employees of the enterprise are not registered, or (iii) the number of persons engaged on a continuous basis is below a threshold determined by the country. For more information, refer to the indicator description.
The unemployment rate expresses the number of unemployed as a percent of the labour force (which includes persons in unemployment plus those in employment). The unemployed are persons of working age who were not in employment, carried out activities to seek employment during a specified recent period and were currently available to take up employment given a job opportunity. For more information, refer to the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization and the indicator description.
Concise descriptions of concepts and definitions, uses, sources and limitations

Forthcoming databases

  • Work statistics – 19th ICLS (WORK)
  • Education and skills mismatch (SKILLS): ???  Employment by education
  • need inflation for COMP ???
In-depth guidance on producing and using labour statistics, including applying international standards
Definitions and methods used for official labour statistics