6105.0 - Australian Labour Market Statistics, July 2011  
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Contents >> Review of ABS Labour Household Surveys >> Labour Household Survey Content Review



The labour household survey program comprises the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS), as well as a number of labour-related supplementary survey and Multi-Purpose Household Survey (MPHS) topics, which are run in conjunction with the LFS. The Survey of Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation (SEARS), a six-yearly Special Social Survey, also includes a labour component.

It has been many years since a holistic review of the labour household survey program has been undertaken. Over recent years there have been many changes to the structure of the labour market and the nature of work.

Ad-hoc and survey specific reviews have been conducted from time to time to keep the program as relevant and conceptually robust as possible, but it is critical, and timely, for a holistic review to be undertaken to ensure ABS labour statistics continue to deliver high quality, coherent, conceptually robust and relevant statistics into the future.

There are also increasing cost pressures on the ABS, and as one of the larger programs within the ABS, it is timely to consider the extent to which the labour program meets key user requirements in the most efficient and cost-effective manner.

Current Labour Household Survey Program

The LFS provides key indicators of the labour market, including monthly estimates relating to employment, unemployment, participation, hours worked, and labour force transitions (gross flows); and quarterly estimates relating to underemployment and underutilisation, industry and occupation.

Data are released monthly in Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0), with more detailed monthly data released in Labour Force, Australia, Detailed – Electronic Delivery (cat. no. 6291.0.55.001) and detailed quarterly data released in Labour Force, Australia, Detailed, Quarterly (cat. no. 6291.0.55003).

The labour supplementary survey and labour MPHS topics aim to provide more detailed information on labour market issues and/or population groups of interest, to complement and extend the information collected in the LFS on a monthly and quarterly basis.

The following labour surveys are currently included within the labour supplementary surveys program:

There are also other sub-topics which are included within the topics identified above (e.g. detailed benefits module collected and published six-yearly within the Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership survey; Labour Hire module collected and published three-yearly within the Forms of Employment Survey).

The following labour topics are included within the labour MPHS program (collected on a financial year basis):
The review

This review aims to make improvements to the labour household survey program to ensure:
  • labour program content, and frequency, is based on key priorities and requirements;
  • the data are more integrated and coherent, to ensure inter-related data are collected together;
  • the conceptual underpinnings are robust and coherent, and reflect contemporary interest in labour market issues;
  • duplication of content is minimised; and
  • ongoing enhancements (e.g. to reflect emerging priorities) are able to be made more efficiently and in a more coordinated manner.

This review is primarily focussed on the content of the labour supplementary surveys (and to a lesser extent the MPHS topics), including the inter-relationships between the topics, and their timing and frequency.

Consideration is also being given to the current content of the core monthly and quarterly LFS: the extent to which it continues to provide key contemporary labour market indicators, considering emerging priorities; and the relationships between content of the LFS and the supplementary survey and the MPHS topics.

This is to ensure that any revised program is based on a holistic ‘labour household survey information set’ perspective, rather than being constrained on the basis of the existing content of current surveys.

Proposed directions for the labour household survey program

A number of potential changes have been identified for the core (monthly and quarterly) LFS, the labour supplementary surveys, and the labour MPHS. These proposed changes are discussed below.

It should be noted that these are only proposals at this stage. No decisions have been made as to which, if any, proposals will be implemented, nor has any testing been undertaken to assess the feasibility.

Labour Force Survey

A number of developments are being explored in relation to the content of the core (monthly and quarterly) LFS which may improve conceptual robustness and relevance, improve the frequency/timeliness of key data, or enable critical linkages that are not currently possible. The proposed changes include:
  • further development in labour underutilisation measures, such as:
    • increasing the frequency of the LFS underemployment and labour force underutilisation measures - from quarterly to monthly;
    • increasing the frequency of the volume (hours-based) measures of labour force underutilisation - from annual to quarterly; and
    • increasing the scope of the underemployment/underutilisation measures to identify all potentially underemployed people, in particular asking questions about wanting to work more hours of persons employed full-time, to provide a more complete picture of available labour supply.
  • the development of a longitudinal LFS Confidentialised Unit Record File (CURF);
  • the inclusion of additional information into the LFS on a monthly or quarterly basis – such as educational attainment, citizenship/visa status, sector and a retrenchment indicator;
  • the incorporation of non-LFS information collected frequently, i.e. in multiple supplementary surveys, into the core LFS to provide a useful time series - such as entitlements to paid holiday/sick leave to provide LFS time series information on casual work; and
  • other conceptual/output improvements - such as combining the Status in Employment (SIE) and Employment Type (ET) classifications into a single, labour market relevant classification. See the Fact Sheet: Employment Classifications in this issue for more details about the different classifications.

The improvements described above will result in a slightly expanded monthly and quarterly Labour Force Survey content. Any enhancements in this area will need to be fully offset by the proposed streamlined labour supplementary surveys content.

Labour Supplementary Surveys

Labour supplementary surveys are currently conducted across 5 months of the year – February, July, August, September and November. There are also a number of other non-labour topics run as supplementary surveys in other months (shaded in figure 1 below).

Figure 1 shows the current labour supplementary survey program. In summary:

  • the Labour Mobility Survey and Labour Force Experience Survey are run two-yearly in February, in alternate years;
  • the Job Search Experience Survey is run annually in July;
  • the Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership Survey is run annually in August;
  • the Underemployed Workers Survey and Persons Not in the Labour Force Survey are both run annually in September;
  • the Forms of Employment Survey is run annually in November. This also includes a Working Time Arrangements Survey run every three years, a Labour Hire module run every three years, and a Locations of Work Survey run every six years.

With the potential changes to the core monthly and quarterly LFS (outlined above) as a starting point, and taking into consideration the current overlaps/linkages in survey content, the following changes to the overall labour supplementary survey program are proposed:
  • integrating the key elements of the annual Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership (EEBTUM) Survey, annual Forms of Employment Survey (FOES), and three-yearly Working Time Arrangements (WTA) Survey into a single consolidated survey - to be run annually in August;
  • integrating the key elements of the two-yearly Labour Mobility Survey, annual Job Search Experience (JSE) Survey, annual Underemployed Workers (UEW) Survey, and annual Persons Not in the Labour Force (PNILF) Survey into a single consolidated survey - to be run annually in February;
  • no longer conducting the six-yearly Locations of Work (LOW) Survey (although basic information about main location worked may still be captured) - this information is collected with the same frequency in the Survey of Employment Arrangements, Retirement and Superannuation (SEARS);
  • no longer conducting the two-yearly Labour Force Experience (LFE) Survey - LFE appears to receive minimal use, and the proposed development of a longitudinal LFS CURF should provide more meaningful experience/transitional information; and
  • no longer collecting the infrequent Benefits module (currently collected as part of the EEBTUM survey on a six-yearly basis).

Figure 2 illustrates the changes/movement of surveys as discussed above.

These changes would result in the labour supplementary survey program including two labour supplementary surveys per year instead of the current five - run in February and August, with labour supplementary surveys no longer collected in July, September and November. Figure 3 shows the proposed new program.

The February labour supplementary survey would contain question modules related to participation, job search and mobility, underemployment, and underutilisation.

Due to the large amount of relevant content, the August supplementary surveys would likely comprise a core annual component, comprising around 75% of the overall content, with the remaining content included every two years on a rotating basis. The core component would contain question modules on characteristics of employment, such as earnings, employment arrangements, job flexibility and trade union membership. The first of the two biennial modules would contain more detailed questions on earnings and trade union membership, and questions around labour hire and locations of work. The second of the two biennial modules would contain question modules on independent contracting, and more detailed questions on employment arrangements and job flexibility, and questions around job stability and scheduling.

Further details on the possible data items to be included in these modules are available on request. At this stage, the list of possible data items is only indicative, and the content may need to be further refined. The final content will be subject to testing and a statistical impact study to ensure that the size of the modules will not have an adverse impact on respondents or on LFS estimates.

Advantages of the proposed supplementary survey program

The February supplementary survey would provide a single survey/dataset which explores the key issues around unemployment and underemployment, participation, job change and job search - currently, the PNILF, UEW and JSE surveys all collect some information relating to participation or increasing participation (e.g. for people looking for work/looking for more work, steps taken to find work/more work, reasons not looking for work/not looking for more work), while the JSE and Labour Mobility surveys both collect information relating to jobs started in the last year.

The August supplementary survey would provide a single survey/dataset which describes the key elements of people's employment - currently, the EEBTUM Survey, FOES, and WTA Survey all collect information describing people’s employment, but each only provide part of the picture in understanding the nature of people’s employment and related outcomes, e.g. relating earnings and working arrangements.

Reducing the labour supplementary survey program from five surveys to two would also free up space for other surveys to be run, e.g. to respond to emerging labour or social issues.

Labour Multi-Purpose Household Surveys

As outlined above, there are currently three labour-related topics included in the MPHS program:
  • the two-yearly Barriers and Incentives to Labour Force Participation Survey;
  • the two-yearly Retirement and Retirement Intentions Survey; and
  • the four-yearly Work-Related Injuries Survey.

It is proposed to continue to collect these topics in the MPHS, and at the current frequency. However, the following changes are proposed:
  • the ‘Incentives module’, which is currently only collected every second time the B&I survey is conducted, be added into the core two-yearly B&I survey;
  • the scope of the B&I survey be expanded to include all underemployed people – currently only employed persons working 15 hours or fewer per week are included, as they were considered to be the group who could provide the largest additional contribution (in hours) to labour supply, however underemployed people working more than 15 hours account for the majority of underemployed people and are also more likely to want a greater number of additional hours; and
  • the R&RI Survey continue to be conducted on a two-yearly basis.

The increase in frequency of the ‘Incentives module’, and the increase in scope of the Barriers and Incentives survey would likely result in a slight reduction in content. Investigations of the impact, and resulting content would be progressed in the development of the next survey.

Issues for consideration

Feedback is sought on the proposed changes to the labour household survey program, including:
  • the usefulness of the proposed additions to the core LFS;
  • the proposed consolidation of the labour supplementary survey program from five to two annual surveys;
  • the content of the proposed labour supplementary surveys;
  • whether there are any key data gaps (existing or emerging) within the revised program;
  • content included in the proposed program that is considered a lower priority (i.e. that could be omitted if necessary); and
  • whether there are any other improvements you would like see made to LFS or the labour supplementary survey or MPHS topics.

Submissions to the review can be emailed to <labour.statistics@abs.gov.au>. For more information on the review, please contact Michael Gerrity on (02) 6252 5514 or email <m.gerrity@abs.gov.au>.

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