6102.0.55.001 - Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, Feb 2018  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 26/02/2018   
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International comparisons of labour statistics are essential in providing a global context to economic analysis, social research and policy formation and evaluation.

When comparing data across countries, consideration must be given to the differences in how labour concepts are measured. Since 1919, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has maintained and developed a system of international labour standards. The ABS provides data about the Australian labour for to groups such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and ILO, who collate data from multiple countries on a similar basis to allow such cross-country comparisons to occur.

This fact sheet will:

  • provide a brief comparison of the labour markets of five countries using data from the ILO; and
  • compare and contrast the methodology of the key labour force survey of each country.

To determine how labour force trends in Australia compare with those elsewhere, Australia is often compared to Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States of America.

Table 1: Key Labour Force Statistics, 2016
Table 1: Key Labour Force Statistics, 2016
Source: ILOSTAT Database


Key Labour Statistics: 2016

Table 1 shows the key labour force figures for the five countries for 2016, disaggregated by sex.

New Zealand had the highest participation rate overall, at 69.8%, with the participation rate for both men and women being considerably higher than the other countries shown. The participation rate for the UK and USA were below that of other countries, however, their unemployment rates were also lower.

While Canada had a slightly higher labour force participation rate than Australia, its unemployment rate was higher, with the two countries having the same employment to population ratio of 61.1%.

For all countries shown, the underemployment rate was higher for women than for men; however, the same story was not true for the unemployment rate. Women in Canada and the UK had a lower unemployment rate than their male counterparts, with the gap between Canadian men and women being as large as 1.5 percentage points.

Time-series data: Unemployment and Underemployment

Figure 1 and Figure 2 show the change in the average annual unemployment and underemployment rate for the five countries from 2004 to 2016. In particular, this period shows the impact of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) on each country’s labour force.

The GFC had the greatest impact on the unemployment rate of the United States (increasing from 4.4% in 2007 to 9.6% in 2010), followed by the United Kingdom (increasing from 5.3% in 2007 to 8.0% in 2011). However, the unemployment and under-employment rates for both countries have been decreasing over recent years.

While Australia had the lowest unemployment rate of the five countries in the years after the GFC, it also had one of the highest rates of underemployment, which continued to grow from 2011 onwards.

These cross-country comparisons highlight the features of the Australian labour market that are unique, and those that are in line with global trends. Such analysis is crucial in evaluating and formulating policy.

Figure 1: Unemployment Rate, 2004 to 2016
Figure 1: Unemployment Rate, 2004 to 2016
Source: ILOSTAT Database

Figure 2: Underemployment Rate, 2004 to 2016
Figure 2: Underemployment Rate, 2004 to 2016
Source: ILOSTAT Database


When comparing data across countries, consideration should also be given to differences in the collection methodologies of each country’s labour force survey. Table 2 summarises the key features of each survey.

Table 2: Comparison of data collections
Table 2: Comparison of data collections

For more information

To provide feedback on this Labour Statistics Fact Sheet please email: labour.statistics@abs.gov.au