4160.0 - Measuring Wellbeing: Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, 2001  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 12/10/2001   
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Contents >> Chapter 6: Work >> Data sources

Data sources

There are a large number of data sources that provide information about the various aspects of work described in this chapter. These include a range of household based and employer based collections undertaken by the ABS, surveys conducted by other agencies, together with data obtained as a by-product of the information systems of various agencies concerned with administering various service delivery programs. A detailed account of these data sources, organised by topics of interest, is given in the recently released ABS publication, Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods (Cat. no. 6102.0).

A feature of ABS household based data collections which provide the primary means for assessing the relationships between work and individual wellbeing is the use of standard modules of questions that describes people's participation in the labour force, whether they are employed or unemployed, and if employed their industry, occupation, and hours of work. Thus, conceptually consistent data are collected in almost all ABS social surveys (including health, disability, time use, income and household expenditure) and the five yearly national Census of Population and Housing. However, the household surveys specifically designed to support a great deal of more focussed analysis of people's work activities and conditions, and of the performance of the economy, namely the monthly Labour Force Survey (LFS) and its associated supplementary surveys, use more detailed sets of questions to define many of the key work related data items listed above and provide the official source of statistics on labour market trends.


The ABS has conducted the LFS since 1960. The survey was undertaken on a quarterly basis before February 1978 and has been conducted monthly since then. The purpose of the LFS is to provide timely information on the labour market activity of the civilian population of Australia aged 15 years and over. It produces estimates of the currently economically active population (labour force) according to the concepts and definitions previously outlined (see pages 158-165) and is the official source for the labour force participation rate (the percentage of the population who are in the labour force), the unemployment rate (those unemployed as a percentage of those in the labour force) and related statistics on peoples labour market activities. Data items collected enable analysis of labour force activities among population sub-groups including men and women, people in various age groups and according to their family type and relationship within a family. The survey also collects information each quarter on time-related underemployment, job tenure (length of time in current job) and employment expectations, thus providing complementary measures of labour market dynamics in the form of recent and potential future movements in the labour force.


Further information on a variety of topics, including marginal attachment, discouraged job seekers and underemployed workers is collected in surveys conducted as supplements to the LFS and many of these supplementary surveys are conducted on a recurrent basis, either annually, biennially or at less regular intervals.

The information available from these surveys includes the labour force data and demographic information collected in the labour force surveys to which they are linked. The titles of supplementary surveys conducted through the late 1990s and more recent years, listed below, help to illustrate the range of topics covered.

Career ExperienceAnnual
Emloyee Earnings, Benefits, Trade Union MembershipAnnual
Job Search Experience of Unemployed PersonsAnnual
Persons Not In the Labour ForceAnnual
Transition from Education to WorkAnnual
Underemployed WorkersAnnual
Labour Force ExpenditureBiennial
Labour MobilityBiennial
Successful and Unsuccessful Job Search ExperienceBiennial
Forms of EmploymentIrregular
Migrants, Labour Force Status and Other CharacteristicsIrregular
Multiple JobholdingIrregular
Retirement and retirement IntentionsIrregular
Retrenchment and RedundancyIrregular
Working ArrangementsIrregular
Locations of WorkIrregular
Work Related InjuriesIrregular


The Survey of Employment and Unemployment Patterns, conducted between 1994 and 1997, was a longitudinal survey designed to provide information on the dynamics of the labour market and to assist in the assessment of the impact of labour market assistance initiatives. The survey collected information on four separate occasions from a sample of people who were identified as being jobseekers or recent labour market program participants, and a population reference group (or control group). After providing initial data about their current employment status, employment history, level of education and a range of other personal characteristics, each subsequent interview obtained details of their employment related activities over the intervening period. With respondents' consent information collected directly from them was linked with income support data from the then Department of Social Security and with labour market program participation data from the then Department of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs. The survey has been widely used by social and economic analysts to assess employment outcomes for various population sub-groups and the merits of labour market assistance schemes in alleviating the extent of joblessness.


The Survey of Employment Arrangements and Superannuation (SEAS) was a new household survey conducted for the first time in 2000. It is planned to be repeated every six years. Information about people's working arrangements available from the survey includes occupation, industry, employment type, job duration, and work patterns and preferences. SEAS focused on distinguishing newer and emerging working arrangements from the prevalent, but declining, full-time ongoing working arrangements with regular hours and paid leave entitlements. Superannuation information includes types of contributions and amount, amount accrued in superannuation, and benefit structure and fund type of each account. For retired people, information includes whether they had received a lump sum recently, the amount of the lump sum received and whether any of the lump sum was rolled over. Information obtained from the survey is particularly relevant to employment or labour market policy and retirement income policy.


The Census of Population and Housing conducted every five years provides data about the labour force status of individuals aged 15 years and over and, for those employed, details of their full-time part-time status, occupation and industry of employment. The questionnaire module used in the Census to produce aggregates of labour force status is consistent with international standards, but uses fewer questions than the LFS. Because of this and because of differences in collection methods and scope, the results are not strictly comparable with those produced from the LFS. However, because it has information for all members of the population, the Census is able to provide statistics about people's particular circumstances at fine levels of classificatory detail that are not generally available from social surveys. These include statistics of people in fine level classifications of occupation and industry which can be used in association with other demographic, social and geographical area variables to the full extent to which each of their associated classifications allow.


The Time Use Survey, last conducted in 1997 and next planned for 2005, provides detailed information on the daily activity patterns of people in Australia in terms of the times (i.e. the time of day/week and duration of time) spent on those activities. Among other uses, the survey supports the analysis of patterns of engagement in paid and unpaid work among men, women and other sub-groups of the population.


The annual Economic Activity Survey established at the beginning of the 1990s directly collects information about the operation and financial performance of all businesses in the public trading and private employing sectors of the Australian economy. It provides key measures on the employment, income and expenditure of Australian industries and includes data on wages and salary costs. Data from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority are also incorporated.

More frequent information on economic activity of private businesses is also collected in the Quarterly Economic Activity Survey (QEAS). This survey, which incorporates the collection of information previously obtained in a number of other surveys, produces estimates of employment, profits, selected income items including sales, selected expenses including labour costs, and inventories, by private businesses in Australia. From 2002 the QEAS will provide private sector earnings data that was formerly made available from the quarterly Survey of Employment and Earnings (SEE). The means of providing public sector employment and earnings data that has been provided by SEE, is currently under review.


The Major Labour Costs Survey aims to collect data on the costs incurred by employers as a consequence of employing labour. It is a mail based survey of employers, which was conducted annually from the mid eighties to the beginning of the nineties and is now carried out every five years - the last survey being in respect of 1996-97. Estimates of labour costs, including employee earnings, employer payments for superannuation, workers' compensation, payroll tax and fringe benefits tax, are produced. These data are available for public and private sector employers and can also be classified by industry, employer size and State. Major economic policy departments at both the Commonwealth and State levels consider labour costs data to be essential to their needs, especially in view of the Government's prices and incomes policy and the need to monitor labour costs for the wage fixation process.


The Survey of Employment Earnings and Hours has been conducted since 1974 and is currently run biennially. This business based survey produces estimates of the composition and distribution of employees earnings and hours, as well as estimates of the proportion of employees whose pay is set on awards only, by collective agreements and by individual agreements. Estimates are used in developing and reviewing wages and labour market policies, in the wage negotiating process, and in research on various aspects of the labour market.


The quarterly survey of Average Weekly Earnings (AWE), based on samples of businesses since 1981, measures the average weekly earnings of employed wage and salary earners (excluding those employed in private agriculture) in Australia. Estimates of average weekly ordinary time and total earnings are available for both full-time adult employees and all employees and are classified by sector, state or territory, industry and sex. The AWE series is a major economic indicator and is consequently used by a large number of users in both Commonwealth and State government departments, employer associations, and trade unions. Uses of the data include: the adjustment of payments specified in Government legislation, both State and Federal or in escalation clauses in business contracts; in economic and labour market analysis by both government and private organisations; and in representations in the award and wage case submission process.


The Wage Cost Index (WCI) is one of the key quarterly economic indicators produced by the ABS. The index measures changes over time in wage and salary costs in the Australian labour market, unaffected by changes in the quality and quantity of work performed (e.g. the WCI is a measure of change in the 'price' of labour). Estimates are used in formulating industrial relations and wages policies, economic analysis and contract adjustment. The ABS has published estimates for the WCI on a quarterly basis since December 1997. Four sets of quarterly Laspeyres indexes are compiled (total hourly rates of pay - excluding bonuses; ordinary time hourly rates of pay - excluding bonuses; total hourly rates of pay - including bonuses; and ordinary time hourly rates of pay - including bonuses). Within each index set, separate indexes can be made available for various combinations of State/Territory, sector (private/public), broad industry and broad occupation groups.


The ABS has been collecting information about industrial disputes since 1913. The data, available on a monthly basis, are mainly compiled from information obtained from employers (both private and public sector), from trade unions and from reports of government authorities. Because particulars of some stoppages (e.g. State or Territory or Australia-wide general strikes) are estimated, the data gives a broad measure of the extent of industrial unrest. The information collected by the ABS includes the number of disputes, their cause and method of settlement, the number of employees involved (separately for direct and indirect involvement) and working days lost (total and per thousand employees) and is classified by State, industry, duration of dispute, cause of dispute and method of settlement.


The ABS Job Vacancy Survey, a business survey, was first conducted in 1974 and since 1979 has been conducted as a quarterly survey. The survey produces estimates (by State and Territory, sector, and industry) of the number of job vacancies and job vacancy rates in Australia which are used as a leading indicators of employment growth, in monitoring of the Australian economy, and for formulating economic policy.


The most commonly used non-ABS source of job vacancy data is the monthly ANZ (Australian and New Zealand Banking Group Limited) job advertisement series, which extends back to 1981. The series counts job advertisements in newspapers in capital cities, and Internet advertisements carried on selected employment Internet sites. Recent and ongoing changes in hiring practices, e.g. increasing use of employment agencies, and the switch from newspaper to Internet advertising, have resulted in job vacancy data based on newspaper advertisements becoming less comprehensive.

In December 2000, the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business (DEWSRB) commenced publication of the Vacancy Report. This monthly publication consist of three series: the Skilled Vacancies Index; the Information and Communications Technology Vacancies Index; and a count of vacancies on DEWRSB's employment website, Australian Jobsearch. As with the ANZ series some components are also based on job advertisements found in particular media; however, the series provides more classificatory information, in terms of type and location of jobs, than is available from the ANZ series.

Through its online Job Outlook services, DEWRSB also provide a range of information about skill shortages in many occupations. This information has a number of components and is based on information compiled from a number of sources. These include data on projected jobs growth (about 5-6 years out) based on projections provided by the Centre of Policy Studies at Monash University.


Published on a quarterly basis by DEWRSB are a number of series which primarily draw on ABS LFS and Centrelink administrative data to provide regional estimates (both by Statistical Local Areas and DEWRSB labour market regions) of labour market conditions in those areas. Measures provided included participation rates, employment, employment growth over the previous quarter and unemployment.


Information relating to federal enterprise bargaining agreements made in Australia is available from an administrative database, the Workplace Agreements Database (WAD) maintained by DEWRSB. The WAD records details on employee coverage, wages (size and timing of increases) and conditions of employment of all known federal collective agreements which have been certified or approved by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. Information from the database is made available through the release of a quarterly publication 'Trends in Federal Enterprise Bargaining'.


Statistical information about people who receive income support payments is published regularly by the Department of Family and Community Services. This is based on the administrative records of people receiving income support payments from Centrelink (the agency that actually approves and provides the payments to those eligible for support). Included among these recipients are people who have received various labour market related payments (typically because they are unemployed or have little income from their employment) and regular statistics are available about the number and characteristics of people receiving such payments. These are available by geographical area which provide additional measures of social circumstances in various parts of Australia. The number of people receiving work related payments may sometimes be used as proximate measures of unemployment although they do not concur with the official estimates provided by the ABS.


Information on individual and business tax returns lodged with the ATO also provides opportunities for producing statistics about employment activity at national and sub-national levels. Data relating to individuals from this source is currently being used to present an annual series of statistics on numbers of people in Statistical Local Areas who receive wages and salaries. These data are available by age, sex and occupation (broad groups) and include data on levels of wage and salary income received. First obtained in respect of the 1995-96 financial year these data are being published by the ABS in various products concerned with providing geographical area related data.


Data on occupational injuries and diseases are principally compiled from administrative records of Commonwealth, State and Territory compensation authorities by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC). Such compensation based data, has been supplied to NOHSC each year from 1991-92 onwards to accord with National Data Set standards which were most recently reviewed in 1999. Data items include: employer description - both in terms of industry and size; employee characteristics - age and sex; job characteristics - occupation, hours usually worked; injury/disease occurrence details - nature of injury/disease, bodily location of injury/disease; and, outcome of incident - time lost, payments made and a severity indicator.

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