Forms of work and labour force statistics conceptual frameworks

Measuring work in official statistics: The new international standards​​​

Statistics about participation in different forms of work are essential to support evidence-based policymaking and analysis. They provide information about the work patterns of different groups of the population, the time spent in these activities, their characteristics and working conditions. Such information is used in the formulation of social and economic policies targeting the population as a whole, as well as particular groups, such as children, youth, women and men, and geographic regions, in particular urban and rural areas. It also forms the basis to evaluate the contribution of these different forms of work to macroeconomic output (e.g., GDP and satellite accounts), to household livelihoods, to community well-being and social cohesion.

The form of work employment serves as basis for labour market statistics. Joint analysis of participation in employment and in other forms of work likewise supports a better understanding of labour market participation by highlighting, for example, issues related to gender disparities in the division of labour between employment and own-use production work, and lack of access to labour markets and/or to markets for products in rural areas.

In addition, special emphasis on the situation of working children is provided by child labour statistics, which cover detailed information on the participation of children in the different forms of work and in various types of child labour or work to be abolished, so as to support national programmes for the elimination of child labour.

Labour market statistics

Labour market statistics focus, in particular, on various aspects of labour markets and how these change over time. They include statistics about labour demand and labour supply.

Statistics about labour demand include information about the number and characteristics of enterprises, jobs, the costs of hiring labour (i.e., labour costs) and the demand for labour (vacancies).

Statistics about labour supply describe the size, structure, characteristics and attachment to the labour market of the working-age population. This includes information about people in employment, unemployment, the labour force and people not in the labour force but with an unmet need for employment.

For information about the degree of access to and integration in labour markets by different groups of the population, there are a variety of indicators of labour underutilization that include:

  • Unemployed persons 
  • Persons in time-related underemployment and the 
  • Potential labour force

From an economic perspective, labour market statistics are useful to analyse, evaluate and monitor the way the economy is performing and the effectiveness of current and longer term economic policies in generating employment. From a social perspective, they are useful to support the achievement of decent work, through policies and programmes for job creation, job training and retraining schemes, work-life balance, and assistance for vulnerable groups, including the young, the aged, women, etc., in finding and securing decent employment.

To provide a more comprehensive picture of the world of work, labour statistics, in addition, cover information on important characteristics related to the jobs and other work activities of the population and the establishments or economic units in which they work, including such aspects as:

  • Working time
  • Status in employment
  • Occupation
  • Formal/informal nature
  • Industry or branch of economic activity
  • Type of economic unit
  • Institutional sector (i.e., public or private)
  • Income
  • Social dialogue (e.g., participation in strikes and lockouts, union membership, collective bargaining)
  • Occupational injuries and diseases resulting from exposure to risk factors at work
  • Social security coverage

Linked very closely to labour statistics because of their importance for assessing household living conditions and for determining minimum wages and real wages and incomes are statistics on household income and expenditure and the consumer price index, which measures the changes over time in the general level of prices of the goods and services that the population purchases for consumption.

The above topics are generally covered in national programmes of labour statistics, as established by Convention (No. 160).

Forms of work

As part of its remit for setting international standards, the ILO has developed a variety of standards covering different areas of labour statistics. These standards include definitions of relevant concepts, operational definitions and guidance on implementation. The latest internationally agreed recommendations and guidelines on their measurement are contained in the Resolutions and Guidelines adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS). The latest statistical definitions for some of the core topics in labour statistics are presented in this section.

Labour statistics cover a wide range of topics related to the world of work. They include statistics about different forms of work as well as statistics about labour markets. Work statistics relate to the productive activities of people. That is, activities performed by persons, regardless of their sex or age, to produce goods or provide services for use by others or for their own use. These activities include different forms of work, such as:

Persons in employment or the employed population comprise all those of working age who, in a short reference period, were engaged in any activity to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit.

The notion of pay or profit refers to work carried out in exchange for remuneration payable in cash or in kind. It includes remuneration in the form of wages or salaries for time worked or for work done or in the form of profits derived from the goods and services produced for sale or barter. In accordance with the international guidelines on employment-related income , this includes remuneration, whether actually received or not, payable directly to the person performing the work or indirectly to a household or family member.

The employed population is measured in relation to a short reference period of one week or seven days, so as to produce a snap-shot picture of employment at a given point in time. When statistics on the employed population are collected at frequent intervals, these can serve to monitor changes over time in the levels, structure and characteristics of employment in countries.

The employed population comprises two main groups:

  • persons employed, at work —i.e. who worked for at least one hour for pay or profit in the short reference period.
  • persons employed, not at work —i.e. who had a job but did not work in the short reference period due to temporary absence from the job, for example due to sick leave, annual leave, maternity leave, etcetera, or due the nature of their working time arrangement, such as shift work, compensatory leave for over time, flexitime.

For operational reasons, to identify persons employed, at work in the short reference period, a criterion of “one hour” of work for pay or profit is used. This “one-hour criterion” ensures that all types of jobs, including part-time, temporary or casual, are taken into account in employment statistics so as to support the monitoring of working conditions of all employed persons. It is also essential in order to fully measure the contribution of employment to production, and thus to national accounts. Likewise, it enables employment and unemployment statistics to refer to mutually exclusive groups of the population, which when added together comprise the labour force.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of employment are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013 . This resolution recognizes employment as the form of work that serves as basis to produce labour market statistics. It provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing their national programmes on work and labour market statistics.

This new resolution has introduced important changes to the statistical definition and measurement of employment. Compared to the previous international statistical standards, the following productive activities are no longer to be counted as employment. Instead, participation in these activities will be measured separately, through the forms of work: own-use production work , volunteer work , and unpaid trainee work :

  • Production of goods when intended mainly or exclusively for own final use by the household or family (e.g. production and processing of goods from agriculture, fishing, and hunting and gathering; fetching water, collecting firewood, manufacture of other goods (textiles, ceramics, furniture, etc.), construction or major repair of own dwelling)
  • Volunteer work for organizations
  • Volunteer work producing goods for other households
  • Unpaid work as trainee, intern or apprentice

These changes will also impact the measurement of unemployment and other measures of labour underutilization , as persons engaged in the above activities, who do not have a job for pay or profit will become eligible for assessment of their labour market attachment.

Own-use production work refers to activities performed to produce goods or provide services intended for final use by the producer, their household and/or family. This form of work is one of the oldest forms of organization of labour, whereby households produce mainly their own food, shelter and other necessities, and provide care and other services for household members, their premises and durables. Nowadays, the spread of markets for goods and services has resulted in dramatic changes in the way labour is organized. Participation in this form of work nonetheless remains widespread in countries at all levels of development and continues to be central to survival in impoverished and remote areas, particularly through subsistence agriculture and fishing, and through self-provisioning of water, firewood and other fuels in areas with limited infrastructure. It is also central to the wellbeing of households and families through the unpaid provision of services such as cooking, cleaning, care and instruction of family members, and maintenance and repair of their dwelling and other premises. Likewise, it is a common strategy for supplementing household income, through subsidiary plots and kitchen gardens in many urban and rural areas. Following concerns for more sustainable models of development, greater reliance on own-use production work to meet a variety of household needs is also becoming a lifestyle choice for parts of the population across countries around the world.

Information about participation and time-spent in own-use production work is essential to inform a wide range of policies including those targeting employment creation in rural areas, poverty reduction, food security, and provision of a wide range of services, including water supply, child and elderly care, domestic services, etcetera. It is also essential for addressing gender issues in the world of work and for better understanding participation and access to labour markets, and related issues such as work-life balance.

To adequately monitor trends and inform a wide variety of social and economic policies, the international statistical standards recommend producing separate statistics on:

  • Persons in own-use production of goods
  • Persons in own-use provision of services

Persons in own-use production of goods are defined as all those of working age who, during a specified reference period, performed any activity to produce goods for own final use. The notion “for own final use” refers to production where the intended destination of the output is mainly for final use by the producer in the form of capital formation, or for final consumption by household members, or by family members living in other households.

According to the international standards, own-use production of goods includes the following activities (within 2008 SNA production boundary) when intended mainly for own final use:

  • Producing and/or processing for storage agricultural, fishing, hunting and gathering products;
  • Collecting and/or processing for storage mining and forestry products, including firewood and other fuels;
  • Fetching water from natural and other sources;
  • Manufacturing household goods (such as furniture, textiles, clothing, footwear, pottery or other durables, including boats and canoes);
  • Building, or effecting major repairs to, one’s own dwelling, farm buildings, etc.;

For policy purposes, an important sub-group of persons in own-use production of goods are subsistence foodstuff producers; that is, persons who performed any of the above activities to produce foodstuff from agriculture, fishing, hunting or gathering that contribute to the livelihood of the household or family.

Persons in own-use provision of services are defined as all those of working age who, during a specified reference period, performed any activity to provide services for own final use by household members, or by family members living in other households.

According to the international standards, own-use provision of services includes the following activities (inside the General production boundary but beyond the 2008 SNA production boundary) when performed unpaid for the household or family member:

  • household accounting and management, purchasing and/or transporting goods;
  • preparing and/or serving meals, household waste disposal and recycling;
  • cleaning, decorating and maintaining one’s own dwelling or premises, durables and other goods, and gardening;
  • childcare and instruction, transporting and caring for elderly, dependent or other household members and domestic animals or pets, etc.;
Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of own-use production work are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013 . This resolution provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing a comprehensive system of on work and labour market statistics that includes, as an integral part, statistics on own-use production work. More so, in countries where subsistence agriculture and/or fishing is a common activity in particular regions or among certain groups of the population, the international guidelines recommend that statistics on persons in own-use production of goods be produced with the same frequency as statistics on employment and labour underutilization.

Time use surveys are a key source of detailed statistics on persons’ use of time in different activities, including in own-use production work, and especially, in own-use provision or services. For monitoring trends and to enable analysis of dynamics between participation in the labour market and in own-use production work, inclusion of short modules on participation in own use production of goods and in own-use provision of services in national labour force surveys are also recommended.

Volunteer work refers to activities performed willingly and without pay to produce goods or provide services for others outside the volunteer’s household or family. Volunteer work plays an important role in countries, contributing to production and to economic output, particularly in the non-profit sector, and also to community development, social cohesion and civic participation. 

Persons in volunteer work are defined as all those of working age who during a short reference period, performed any unpaid, non-compulsory activity to produce goods or provide services for others; that is for economic units outside the volunteer’s household or family. 

For analytical and policy purposes two kinds of volunteer work can be separately identified:

  • Organization-based volunteering –that is, volunteer work performed for, or through organizations
and
  • Direct volunteering –that is, volunteer work performed directly for other households, excluding the household of the volunteer or of family members living in other households

While a main aspect of volunteer work is that it is performed without an expectation of payment, volunteers may nonetheless receive some small form support or stipend for out of pocket expenses, or to cover living expenses while engaged in the voluntary activity. They may also receive meals and transport or symbolic gifts in recognition for their contribution. 

Another important aspect of volunteer work is that it is done on a voluntary basis, that is, without any civil, legal or administrative requirement. This is an important element that distinguishes volunteer work from other work activities that are unpaid and performed for others, but that are done on a compulsory basis, such as court-mandated community service, mandatory national service related to a military draft or service required as part of an education programme or to acquire certification in a given profession.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of employment are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013 . This resolution provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing a comprehensive system of statistics on work, including volunteer work. 

More detailed guidance for the collection of statistics on volunteer work, in particular through household surveys, is provided in the ILO Manual on the measurement of volunteer work  (2011).

Newly recognized in the international statistical recommendations is the measurement of unpaid trainee work. This form of work refers to work performed for others without pay to acquire workplace experience or skills. Unpaid trainee work can be an important activity for youth providing them with initial labour market experience. In other instances, it may also represent a traditional arrangement for gaining specific occupational skills in a given trade or profession. Likewise, in some cultures, unpaid trainee work is an important mechanism of providing services to communities, and may be required in order to complete training in a profession or to earn a certification. In all instances, this form of work, contributes to production and thus to economic output.

Information about unpaid trainee work is useful particularly to inform policies on human resource development, including vocational education and skills training. It is also essential to monitor working conditions for youth and to inform the development of policies aimed at improving employability of youth.

Persons in unpaid trainee work are defined as all those of working age who during a short reference period, performed any unpaid activity to produce goods or provide services for others, in order to acquire workplace experience or skills in a trade or profession.

Unpaid trainee work may take place in the context of traditional, formal or informal arrangements, whereby the trainee provides its labour to an economic unit in exchange for workplace learning. However, learning a specific occupation in a classroom context does not constitute unpaid trainee work. Rather, the trainee must contribute to the production process of an economic unit in order to be considered as work. Likewise, the trainee must be engaged in an economic unit, formal or informal, that is not owned by a household or family member. This is because, according to the international standards, family members who work in a business owned by household or family member are considered to be employed (as contributing family workers).

In contrast to paid apprenticeships, traineeships and other such programmes, which constitute a type of employment contract, unpaid trainee work is carried out without remuneration in cash or in kind for work done or hours worked. Nevertheless, unpaid trainees may receive some form of support, such as transfers of education stipends or grants, or occasional in cash or in kind support (e.g. a meal, drinks). Unpaid trainees may or may not receive a specific qualification or certification.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of employment are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013 . This resolution provides reference concepts, operational definitions and guidelines to support countries in establishing a comprehensive system of work and labour market statistics, including statistics on unpaid trainee work.

Labour force statistics

Labour underutilization

A main objective of monitoring labour markets is to assess the extent to which the economy is fully utilizing its available human resources, or put another way, the extent to which it provides opportunities to employ its population to its full potential. Three main measures of labour underutilization recognized in the international statistical standards are:

  • Time-related underemployment
  • Unemployment
  • Potential labour force

These measures capture groups of the population that, in one way or another, do not have sufficient access to employment (i.e. work for pay or profit). These groups share in common an unmet need for employment but differ in terms of their participation or attachment to the labour market. In the international standards, they have been defined so as to be coherent with the measurement of employment  and with the classification of the working age population by labour force status . They are thus, current measures of labour underutilization, assessed in reference to a short reference period, so as to provide a snapshot picture of labour market performance and support monitoring of changes over time through their frequent measurement.

Time-related underemployment captures persons who are employed but whose working time is insufficient compared to an alternative employment situation in which they are willing and available to engage. Persons in time-related underemployment are defined as all persons in employment, who during a short reference period, wanted to work additional hours, whose working time in all jobs was less than a specified hours’ threshold, and who were available to work additional hours given an opportunity for more work.Unemployment captures persons that altogether lack employment, but who are actively putting pressure on the labour market by seeking opportunities for employment and by being currently available to start working. Thus, they represent current underutilized labour supply. Persons in unemployment or Unemployed population are defined as all those of working age who were not in employment, carried out activities to seek employment in a recent period (comprising the previous 4 weeks or month) and were currently available to take up employment (in the reference period or within a short subsequent period not exceeding two weeks in total).

Potential labour force captures persons who, similar to unemployed, lack employment and exert some pressure on the labour market. However, compared to the unemployed they show a lower level of attachment, as they either do not seek employment or are not available to start working. As the term indicates, they thus represent the potential supply of labour at a given point in time. Potential labour force is defined as all persons of working age who were neither in employment, nor in unemployment but who were: (a) unavailable job seekers, that is, carried out activities to seek employment in a recent period but were not currently available to take up employment, or (b) available potential job seekers, that is, did not carry out activities to seek employment in a recent period, but wanted employment and were currently available to take up employment.

Current international guidelines

The latest international recommendations on the measurement of labour underutilization are contained in the Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization adopted by the 19th ICLS in 2013. These recommendations recognize the monitoring of labour markets and of labour underutilization as a core objective of national labour market statistics programmes. They provide detailed definitions and operational guidelines for the measurement of these three components of labour underutilization as well as guidance to calculate different indicators to be disseminated together with the unemployment rate as headline measures for monitoring labour market performance.

Other important dimensions of labour underutilization are also recognized, including skills mismatches and slack work, in particular among the self-employed. At present, the ILO Department of Statistics is conducting work in order to develop suitable measures of these important dimensions of labour underutilization for future discussion by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians.

Guidance to measure related forms of inadequate employment, particularly with respect to skills, income and excessive working time, are also contained in the Resolution concerning the measurement of underemployment and inadequate employment situations, adopted by the 16th ICLS in 1998.