4160.0.55.001 - Frameworks for Australian Social Statistics, Jun 2015  
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Work comprises any activity performed to produce goods or to provide services for use by others, or for own use, needed for living, for living well and ensuring future survival. Often work is considered to be employment, however, a great deal of work is undertaken outside the market economy and is unpaid such as voluntary work, domestic work and caring for others.


Work is a major contributor to the nation’s economy and is centrally important to the wellbeing of individuals and society. It enables people to achieve goals, and is a means by which they contribute to the productivity and activity of their community. The goods and services necessary for life and material comfort must be produced through work, just as the care and nurture of children and other family and community members requires work. Work supports families and communities through the goods and services it creates, and through the training, infrastructure and socialisation it provides. Work builds social networks, shared values and social cohesion across society.

Employment supports the prosperity and existence of communities and the economy. Being employed is important to people because it enables them to earn income and therefore be able to consume and save, and thrive in other areas of wellbeing such as housing, health, education and retirement. Unpaid work provide services, products and opportunities that otherwise might have been provided at a higher cost or not at all. Unpaid work provides many non-material rewards for people such as a sense of achievement, personal development and usefulness.

In a national consultation conducted by the ABS in 2011-12, Australians said that work is important to people's lives, to the economy and to society overall (MAP 2013, ABS). Work provides individuals with income through employment, produces goods and services, provides a sense of purpose and a way that people can contribute to society.

Work can be monitored using information on:

  • participation in work activities
  • labour force status
  • occupation of the job and industry in which the work is done
  • work conditions.


There are a range of events, pressures and drivers of change that have the potential to substantially affect wellbeing. In relation to work, some examples of these factors include:
  • the impacts of the economic cycle on labour market participation
  • the ability for people to continue to access paid employment due to changes in industry composition, infrastructure and technology
  • the increasing need for flexible working arrangements
  • changes to work-place relations laws and practices impacting on working conditions
  • restricted opportunities (e.g. skills and training) for certain population groups to obtain decent and productive work
  • being able to re-enter the workforce after a time away caring for children
  • time constraints in undertaking unpaid work, particularly with the increase in female participation in the workplace
  • changes to retirement patterns and the relationship to pensions and superannuation
  • the cost of work-related injury and illness for employers, workers and the community.


There are many ways that people, community groups, governments and other institutions can work to improve work outcomes in Australia, particularly to improve an individual's capability to participate in productive and satisfying work. Some examples include actions to:
  • increasing productivity of the labour force and the contribution of workers to economic growth in a manner that supports people
  • improving access to employment opportunities for all population groups; reducing barriers to employment; reducing discrimination
  • ensuring there are effective programs, strategies and opportunities in place to provide people with quality and safe employment; including decent working conditions and remuneration
  • reducing the levels of unemployment and underemployment
  • raising the recognition of the economic contribution of domestic and unpaid work
  • forming partnerships between schools and businesses to assist in school to work transitions
  • providing flexible working arrangements, access to parental leave and affordable childcare.


To gain a better understanding of work in Australian society, look through the pages on:
  • Health
  • Learning and knowledge
  • Economic wellbeing
  • Family and community
  • Information and communication technology


Need some more information on work? This section can point you in the right direction.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, (cat. no. 6102.0.55.001) - Provides a comprehensive description of the concepts and definitions underpinning Australian labour statistics and the data sources and methods used in the collection and compilation of these statistics. It explains what the statistics measure, how the various measures relate to each other and how they are produced. It also discusses the factors influencing their accuracy and reliability. It also relates to relevant international statistical standards.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, Standards for Labour Force Statistics, (cat. no. 1288.0) - The Labour force framework shows how the population is assigned a labour force status, from a labour supply perspective, at a given moment in time. It identifies those people who are contributing to the economy through their labour, or who are ready, willing and able to do so. It categorises the population into three mutually exclusive and exhaustive categories: employed, unemployed and not in the labour force.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Labour Statistics - Measuring Quality of Employment - The Measuring Quality of Employment statistical framework has been developed under the auspice of the Conference of European Statisticians (CES). It has been developed as a statistical toolbox that can be applied flexibly and used in various contexts. It defines quality of employment from the point of view of the employed person.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Underemployed Workers, Australia, (cat. no. 6265.0) - The Labour underemployment framework encapsulates the extent to which the work aspirations of people who are in the labour force are not being met by identifying people who want, and are available, to work more hours than they currently have and those who worked fewer hours than usual.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Persons Not in the Labour Force, Australia, (cat. no. 6220.0) - There are some people outside the labour force who do not satisfy either the employed or unemployed criteria. The Marginal attachment framework describes a spectrum of attachment to work that reflects reasons people do not meet the criteria to be unemployed. These people would like to work but, for a variety of reasons, are either not actively looking for work or are not available to start work.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Framework for Measuring Wellbeing: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, (cat. no. 4703.0) - The Customary, voluntary and paid work domain includes the activities in which an individual engages that contribute to the functioning of their society. It covers the standard measures of economic wealth and labour force participation and also extends into areas with an Indigenous specific focus such as cultural obligations, customary activities and traditional economies.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, Spotlight on National Accounts: Unpaid Work and the Australian Economy, (cat. no. 5202.0) - This paper focuses on the overall value and growth of unpaid work conducted by households in Australia, including comparisons to other countries.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, May 2015, Labour Force Australia, (cat. no. 6202.0) - Summary results of the monthly Labour Force survey containing estimates of employed and unemployed persons and persons not in the labour force.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, July 2014, Australian Labour Market Statistics, (cat. no. 6105.0) - This product contains analyses of contemporary labour market issues and information about the latest developments in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) labour statistics program.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), Time Use Surveys - A portal to resources on time use surveys from UNECE and other agencies.

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), 2013, Guidelines for Harmonizing Time-Use Surveys - Aims to (a) help statisticians and policymakers understand the importance of time-use surveys, (b) provide guidance in the design and implementation of time-use surveys, and (c) improve the international comparability of their results. The Guidelines include recommendations of preferred or best practice, based on the experience of member countries.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, Census Fact sheet Measures of Unpaid Work - Questions on unpaid work were included in the 2006 Australian Census for the first time. The ABS Census Fact sheet on unpaid work is designed to assist in the use and interpretation of unpaid work data in the Census.

International Labour Organization, Statistics and databases - A United Nations agency dealing with labour issues, particularly international labour standards, social protection, and work opportunities for all.


Labour underutilisation

In a broad sense labour underutilisation encapsulates the extent to which the aspirations of people for work are not being met. It covers people who are not employed but want employment (unemployed) and those who are in employment but want more employment (underemployed).


Underemployed includes people who want, and are available, to formally work more hours than they currently have and those who formally worked fewer than usual. Most of the underemployed are part-time workers who are willing and available to work more hours, but also includes full-time workers who could not work their usual full-time hours for economic reasons.

Marginal attachment to the labour force

People outside of the labour force who do not satisfy either the employed or unemployed criteria are considered to be marginally attached to the labour force. They would like formal work but, for a variety of reasons, are either not actively looking for work or are not currently available to start work.

Labour productivity

Labour productivity is a partial measure of overall productivity (capital productivity and multifactor productivity are the other components). Labour productivity is calculated as Gross Domestic Product per hour worked, and can be measured across various industry sectors or over the whole economy. Labour productivity growth is about working more efficiently to produce more or better quality goods and services.

Workplace relations

Workplace relations can be regarded as the relationships and interactions in the labour market between employers and employees (and their representatives), and the intervention in these relations by governments, government agencies and tribunals (e.g. Fair Work Commission).

Unpaid work

Unpaid work covers a variety of activities such as voluntary work, domestic work, and caring for others. An unpaid activity is considered to be unpaid work if the output produced could be purchased in the market, or a third person outside of the household group could be paid to perform the task.

Unpaid domestic work

Includes all housework, food/drink preparation and cleanup, laundry, gardening, home maintenance and repairs, household shopping and finance management, and caring for children.

Voluntary work

Consists of help willingly given, in the form of time, service or skills, to a club, organisation or association. Voluntary work excludes unpaid work done through a club, organisation or association in order to qualify for government benefits. It also excludes any activity which is part of a person's paid employment or working in a family business. Unpaid work in a family business is regarded as employment rather than voluntary work.

Unpaid carers

People who care for someone who needs assistance because they have a disability, a long-term health condition, or who is frail or aged, where this care is not done as a part of paid work or voluntary work. People who provide general child care (for a child without a disability or long term health condition), or care for someone who has a short-term illness, are excluded.


Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Australian and New Zealand Standard Classification of Occupations (ANZSCO), (cat. no. 1220.0) - A statistical classification designed to aggregate and organise data collected about jobs or individuals. It provides a basis for the standardised collection, analysis and dissemination of occupation data for Australia and New Zealand.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006, Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), (cat. no. 1292.0) - For use in the compilation and analysis of industry statistics in Australia and New Zealand using supply-side based industry definitions and groupings.


Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013, Measures of Australia's Progress (cat. no. 1370.0).