6102.0.55.001 - Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, Feb 2018  
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This document was added or updated on 26/05/2020.

CHARACTERISTICS OF EMPLOYMENT


INTRODUCTION

The Characteristics of Employment Survey (COE) combines the key elements from the previous separate Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership Survey (EEBTUM) (cat. no. 6310.0), Forms of Employment Survey (FOES) (cat. no. 6359.0) and Working Time Arrangements Survey (WTA) (cat. no. 6342.0), to provide a comprehensive and coherent dataset on characteristics of persons' employment.

The survey presents information on all employed persons according to their status in employment.

The status in employment category groups are:

  • Employees
  • Owner managers of incorporated enterprises (OMIEs)
    • With employees
    • Without employees
  • Owner managers of unincorporated enterprises (OMUEs)
    • With employees
    • Without employees

Employees are then further classified according to whether they had paid leave entitlements, which is whether they had paid sick and/or paid holiday leave.

Information is also presented on independent contractors, who may be in the Employees, OMIEs or OMUEs groups. They are identified through a series of questions about their work and remuneration arrangements.

The collection of a range of socio-demographic and labour force characteristics makes the survey extremely valuable for comparing and analysing the distribution of weekly earnings across employees. Data are used in the development and review of wages and labour market policies, and in wage negotiation processes. The survey is the only frequent source of data on the distribution of trade union members by socio-demographic and labour force characteristics.

This section describes only those aspects of the methodology that are unique to this survey, and should therefore be read in conjunction with the overview part of this section, which outlines the survey methodology used in supplementary surveys.


SURVEY QUESTIONNAIRE

The current Characteristics of Employment questionnaire is available from Appendix 2 or Characteristics of Employment, Australia (cat. no. 6333.0), as a PDF file on the Downloads tab.


SURVEY OUTPUT

Data from the survey, including time series data on earnings and trade union membership, are published on the ABS website in Characteristics of Employment, Australia (cat. no. 6333.0). More detailed data may be available on request.

Data are presented on the weekly earnings of employees and OMIEs, trade union membership, independent contractors, persons who found their job through a labour hire firm/employment agency, and working arrangements. This information can be cross classified by a range of personal characteristics, educational attainment, characteristics of employment such as full-time or part-time status, industry and occupation of main job, and demographic characteristics.

The main population of interest is employed persons. Persons who were contributing family workers in their main job are excluded from the survey. Estimates are produced on an original basis only (i.e. not seasonally adjusted), and include:

Socio-demographic information
      Sex; age; social marital status; relationship in household; state or territory of usual residence; and country of birth and elapsed years since arrival in Australia.

Employment characteristics
      Occupation; industry; hours worked; full-time or part-time status; sector; duration with current employer/business; whether employment had a set completion date/event; length of set employment completion date/event from the date of interview; whether worked on a fixed-term contract; whether expected contract to be renewed; and whether considered job to be casual.

Employee earnings
      Weekly earnings distributions; mean and median weekly earnings (in main, second and all jobs) (excluding OMIEs who did not draw a wage or salary and employees who only received payment in kind); and frequency of pay.

Leave entitlements
      Paid sick leave; paid holiday leave; and paid maternity/paternity leave.

Trade Union Membership
      Trade union membership in main job; trade union member not necessarily in connection with main job; length of current trade union membership; whether previously a trade union member.

Independent Contractors
      Whether usually able to work on more than one active contract; whether had more than one contract for work in reference week; whether able to (sub) contract own work; main reason unable to (sub) contract own work; and whether had authority over own working procedures.

Working patterns and arrangements
      Whether usually work the same number of hours each week; whether guaranteed a minimum number of hours or work; whether pay varies from one period the next; whether usually works paid or unpaid extra hours or overtime; whether required to be on-call or standby; whether usually worked shift work and type of shift usually worked; whether usually worked from home and reasons for doing so; whether had an agreement with employer to work flexible hours; whether preferred to work fewer hours; days of the week usually worked; number of days of the week usually worked; and whether usually worked on weekdays, weekends or both.

Persons who found their job through a labour hire firm/employment agency
      Whether currently registered or had registered in the last 12 months; whether found a job; and whether paid by a labour hire firm/employment agency.


POPULATION GROUPS

Employed persons

Persons aged 15 years and over who, during the reference week:
  • worked for one hour or more for pay, profit, commission or payment in kind, in a job or business or on a farm (comprising employees, employers and own account workers); or
  • worked for one hour or more without pay in a family business or on a farm (i.e. contributing family workers); or
  • were employees who had a job but were not at work and were:
    • away from work for less than four weeks up to the end of the reference week;
    • away from work for more than four weeks up to the end of the reference week and received pay for some or all of the four week period to the end of the reference week;
    • away from work as a standard work or shift arrangement;
    • on strike or locked out;
    • on workers' compensation and expected to return to their job; or
  • were employers or own account workers who had a job, business or farm, but were not at work.

Contributing family workers in their main job are excluded from the COE survey.

Employees

Employees are employed persons who:
  • worked for a public or private employer; and
  • received remuneration in wages or salary; or are paid a retainer fee by their employer and worked on a commission basis, for tips, piece-rates or payment in kind.

Owner Managers of Incorporated Enterprises (OMIEs)

Persons who work in their own incorporated enterprise, that is, a business entity which is registered as a separate legal entity to its members or owners (may also be known as a limited liability company). An owner manager of an incorporated enterprise may or may not hire one or more employees in addition to themselves and/or other owners of that business.

Owner Managers of Unincorporated Enterprises (OMUEs)

A person who operates his or her own unincorporated enterprise or engages independently in a profession or trade. An owner manager of an unincorporated enterprise may or may not hire one or more employees in addition to themselves and/or other owners of that business.

Independent Contractors

Independent contractors are persons who operate their own business and who contract to perform services for others without having the legal status of an employee, i.e. persons who are engaged by a client, rather than an employer. Independent contractors are engaged under a contract for services (a commercial contract), whereas employees are engaged under a contract of service (an employment contract). Independent contractors' employment may take a variety of forms, for example, they may have a direct relationship with a client or work through an intermediary. Independent contractors may have employees; however they spend most of their time directly engaged with clients or on client tasks, rather than managing their staff.


SCOPE

In addition to those already excluded from the LFS, the following persons are excluded from COE (see Chapter 17: Methods Used in ABS Household Surveys for further information):
  • Persons living in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in very remote parts of Australia;
  • Students at boarding schools, patients in hospitals , residents of homes (e.g. retirement homes, homes for people with disabilities), and inmates of prisons; and
  • Contributing family workers, persons not in the labour force, and unemployed persons.


COLLECTION METHODOLOGY

See Chapter 21: Labour Force Supplementary Surveys - Collection Methodology for more information.


NOTES ON ESTIMATES

To minimise the risk of identifying individuals in aggregate statistics, perturbation is used to randomly adjust estimates. Perturbation involves small random adjustment of the statistics, and is considered the most satisfactory technique for avoiding the release of information that could identify individual survey respondents while maximising the range of information that can be released. These adjustments have a negligible impact on the underlying pattern of the statistics. After perturbation, a published estimate will be consistent across all tables. However, adding up estimates to derive a total will not necessarily give the same result as published totals.

RSEs for COE estimates are calculated using the Jack-knife method of variance estimation. This process involves the calculation of 30 'replicate' estimates based on 30 different sub-samples of the original sample. The variability of estimates obtained from these sub-samples is used to estimate the sample variability surrounding the main estimate.

Where information relating to earnings in both main job and/or second job is not provided by the respondent, values are imputed. Where this is the only information missing from the respondent record, the value is imputed based on answers provided from another respondent with similar characteristics (referred to as the "donor"). Donor records are selected for imputation of earnings in main job by matching information on sex, age, state or territory of usual residence, and selected labour force characteristics (full-time or part-time in main job, industry, occupation, hours worked in main job, owner manager status) of the person with missing information.

Donor records are selected for imputation of earnings in second job by matching information on age, state or territory of usual residence, area of usual residence, owner manager status, hours worked in second job, and frequency of pay in second job. Depending on which values are imputed, donors are chosen from the pool of individual records with complete information for the block of questions where the information is missing.


DATA COMPARABILITY OVER TIME

Changes to the LFS population benchmarks impact primarily on the magnitude of the LFS estimates (i.e. employment and unemployment) that are directly related to the underlying size of the population. For more details on population benchmarks, see the Explanatory Notes in Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0), and for details about the revisions made, see the article in the January 2014 issue of Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0) and the article in the November 2012 issue of Labour Force, Australia (cat. no. 6202.0).

From January 2014, labour force estimates (including those produced from supplementary surveys) have been compiled using population benchmarks based on the 2011 Census of Population and Housing.
Prior to 2014, information about trade union membership was collected only of employees and OMIEs. From 2014 onwards, information on trade union membership is collected from all employed persons. See the article ‘Appendix: Status of employment and population concordance’ in the August 2014 issue of Characteristics of Employment, Australia (cat. no. 6333.0) for more information.

From August 2014, collection of earnings in second job was changed to match the collection of earnings in main job. Previously, earnings in second job were collected from respondents who were employees in their second job, who actually worked some hours in their second job in the reference week. Earnings were reported for those hours actually worked in that job. From 2014, earnings in second job are collected from employees in their second job, regardless of whether they worked in that job in the reference week. Earnings data and frequency of pay in that second job are subsequently collected. This change resulted in a break in series of earnings in all jobs and earnings in second job.

From August 2014, information on trade union membership is collected from all employed persons. In previous years, information on trade union membership was only collected from employees and OMIEs. See the article ‘Appendix: Status of employment and population concordance’ in the August 2014 issue of Characteristics of Employment, Australia (cat. no. 6333.0) for more information.

Caution should be exercised when comparing the estimates from COE with previous supplementary surveys, as some data items changed and population groups are conceptually different. For comparability with previous surveys, see Explanatory Notes in Characteristics of Employment, Australia (cat. no. 6333.0).

Caution should be exercised when comparing results for ‘Employees’ from COE to previous FOES and EEBTUM surveys, as the population ‘Employees’ in COE is not directly comparable to the ‘Employees’ population in both FOES and EEBTUM.

Imputation

Prior to 2004, imputation was not used. Employees whose weekly earnings could not be determined were excluded from estimates of mean or median weekly earnings. Care should be taken when comparing earnings data from 2004 onwards with earnings data prior to 2004. To compare the change in methodology from 2003 to 2004, see paragraph 28 of the Explanatory Notes in the August 2004 issue of Employee Earnings, Benefits and Trade Union Membership (cat. no. 6310.0).

From August 2009, additional information relating to the number of hours that a respondent's last pay period covered in their main job was added to the imputation process for main job earnings.

The current imputation method has been used since the 2005 survey. A similar method of imputation was used for the 2004 survey. The differences between the 2004 and the current imputation method are that donors are matched, where possible, at a finer level of detail; and second job earnings are imputed, whereas in 2004 they were not.

From August 2014, additional information relating to the number of hours usually worked, and the frequency of pay in a respondent’s second job, was added to the imputation process for second job earnings.

Salary sacrifice

From August 2007, as a result of a change in the concept of earnings being measured, employees and OMIEs are asked to include salary sacrifice when estimating their earnings. In previous years, there was no explicit reference to the treatment of salary sacrifice. It is probable that some employees were already including amounts of salary sacrifice in their estimates of earnings, depending upon how their pay was reported. This change has resulted in a break in series. Users need to exercise care when comparing the earnings of employees and OMIEs prior to and after 2007.


COMPARABILITY WITH MONTHLY LFS STATISTICS

Due to differences in the scope and sample size of COE and that of the monthly LFS, the estimation procedure may lead to some small variations between labour force estimates from COE and those from the LFS.


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