The nature of unpaid work is very complex. It covers a variety of activities such as domestic work, caring for children, disabled people and the elderly, household repairs and maintenance and voluntary work.

The ABS has found that reliable information on this topic is best obtained by specially designed sample surveys using trained interviewers. In this way far more detailed information can be gathered about the nature of unpaid work and its valuable contribution to the community, than could be obtained by a small number of questions on a Census Form.

The results of these surveys are published in a range of publications including How Australians Use their Time (cat. no. 4153.0), Voluntary Work (cat. no. 4441.0), Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy (cat. no. 5240.0) and Focus on Families: Family Life (4425.0). The July 2001 issue of Australian Economic Indicators (1350.0) contains an article on estimating the value of unpaid work.

For example, in 1997 ABS estimates Australians undertook 19.5 billion hours of unpaid work. Satellite accounts to the Australian National Accounts value this work at $240-260 billion and about two-thirds was contributed by women.

Information on unpaid work performed through an organisation or group is collected in ABS Voluntary Work surveys. Details of the more informal types of unpaid work, such as domestic activities and care of children and adults, are collected in ABS Time Use and in Disability, Ageing and Carers surveys. The ABS also expects to include topics on voluntary work and community participation at regular intervals in the new multipurpose household survey which will run two years in three, commencing in 2003.

Representations were made to the ABS for the inclusion of unpaid work questions in the 2001 Census. However, most of these submissions did not provide any indication of how the Census statistics would improve on the rich sources of information on unpaid work already produced by the ABS, or of how the Census statistics would be used.

The above provides reasons for exclusion of the topic of unpaid work from the 2001 Census. This is based on the criteria for inclusion of topics in the 2001 Census which has been endorsed by the Government. For the 2006 Census the ABS will, at Government request, develop a question on unpaid work for inclusion in that Census.