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.



The ABS has been collecting information about industrial disputes since 1913. The current industrial disputes collection produces quarterly estimates of the number of disputes (where ten or more working days are lost), employees involved, and working days lost. The data are used to support the analysis and monitoring of industrial disputation in Australia.


Estimates from the industrial disputes collection are released quarterly in Industrial Disputes, Australia (cat. no. 6321.0.55.001), with statistics available back to March quarter 2004. Releases between October 1970 and December 2003 were monthly (cat. no. 6321.0).

Historical data are available via past releases of Labour Statistics, Australia (1979-1997), Labour Statistics (1975-1978), Labour Report (1922-1973) and Labour and Industrial Branch Report (1913-1921) (cat. no. 6101.0). More information on the types of historical ABS data that are available relating to industrial relations issues is available from the Directory of Industrial Relations Statistics, July 1996 (cat. no. 1134.0).

A number of series are produced from the industrial disputes collection. For disputes which occurred during the period, these include:

  • number of industrial disputes;
  • number of employees involved;
  • number of working days lost; and
  • number of working days lost per 1000 employees.

Disputes which ended during the period are further classified according to the:
  • cause of dispute;
  • working days lost per employee involved; and
  • reason work resumed.

Estimates are also available by state or territory and industry.


Industrial disputes are included within scope of the collection if the work stoppages amount to 10 or more working days lost within a month. Ten working days is equivalent to the amount of ordinary time which would have been worked: for example, during a stoppage of work by 10 employees for one day, or by 40 workers attending a 2 hour stop work meeting (assuming they worked an 8 hour day). Disputes which involve the equivalent of less than 10 working days lost are excluded.

Measures of industrial disputes are based on concepts and definitions outlined in international guidelines adopted by the 1993 International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Refer to the section Workplace Relations for more information.

The following types of industrial disputes are within the scope of the Industrial Disputes collection:
  • unauthorised stop work meetings;
  • general strikes;
  • sympathetic strikes (e.g. strikes in support of a group of workers already on strike);
  • political or protest strikes;
  • rotating or revolving strikes (e.g. strikes which occur when workers at different locations take turns to stop work);
  • unofficial strikes; and
  • work stoppages initiated by employers (e.g. lockouts).

This concept of an industrial dispute differs from the concept of industrial action within the Fair Work Act. For example, a work stoppage based on a reasonable concern of the employee about an imminent risk to his or her health or safety is typically not considered industrial action under the Fair Work Act. However, it may be in scope of the industrial disputes collection if the employer believes that there is no imminent risk to the employees involved.

Excluded from the scope of the collection are other types of industrial action, such as work-to-rules, go-slows and bans (e.g. overtime bans). Also excluded are effects of disputes on locations other than where the stoppages occurred, such as stand-downs because of lack of materials, disruption of transport services and power cuts.

In addition, if all of the employees involved in an industrial dispute resign, that dispute is deemed to have ended and it is excluded from the scope of the collection from the date of the employment termination.


A list of organisations whose employees were involved in industrial disputes is compiled monthly. Statistics on industrial disputes are based on all disputes identified which occurred during the period. Disputes are identified through a range of sources, including media reports, listings obtained from the Fair Work Commission (FWC) website, state industrial relations commissions, contact with government organisations, businesses, employer associations and trade unions. Although every attempt is made to identify all disputes that occurred in a period, some small disputes may not be identified through the sources available.

Once all disputes for a month are identified, additional information on the nature and extent of each dispute is obtained through a questionnaire, usually sent to employers, on the nature and extent of the dispute. Employers who do not submit their questionnaire within a reasonable period of time after the survey reference period are followed up by mail and then phone if necessary.


Estimates are compiled according to the concepts and definitions outlined in the section: Workplace Relations. As the collection is a complete enumeration (census), no weighting is required.

If partial responses are received, some data items may be imputed e.g. working days lost in a particular strike. Due to the imputation procedures and the limitations on identification of disputes, the statistics should not be regarded as an exact measure of the extent of industrial disputation.

When there is a return to work between stoppages over the same issue, and the return to work is for less than two complete months, the stoppages are counted as a single dispute. When the return to work is for two or more months, the dispute is considered to have ended at the time of the return to work. Should a subsequent stoppage occur, it is counted as a new dispute. Due to the 'two month rule', data relating to disputes which ended in the quarter cannot be finalised until two months have elapsed without further industrial action. Consequently, the publication of data for disputes which ended during the quarter has been lagged by one quarter.

Revisions may be made to quarterly data as a result of disputes being identified after release of data for that quarter, or as a result of correcting errors in previously reported data.

The basis for the calculation of working days lost per thousand employees was changed in the January 1995 publication to use estimates of employees taken from the ABS Labour Force Survey. As part of the labour force quarterly rebenchmarking process, Industrial Disputes working days lost per thousand employees series are also subject to revision.


Estimates from the industrial disputes collection are subject to non-sampling error (see the section: Overview of Survey Methods for more information).


In order to provide a high degree of consistency and comparability over time, changes to collection methods, concepts, data item definitions and frequency are made as infrequently as possible. Significant changes have included:

  • Industrial Disputes collection commenced. Quarterly and annual statistics published.

  • Cause of dispute and method of settlement classifications revised.
  • Ceased publishing the results of strikes and lockouts. These results had been defined as: in favour of the workpeople; in favour of the employer; compromise; and indefinite.

  • Ceased publishing details of the number of establishments involved by State/Territory and industry.

  • Number of disputes, number of employees involved and number of working days lost classified for the first time according to the size (in terms of the number of employees involved or the number of working days lost) of the dispute.

  • Working days lost per thousand employees first published.

  • Australian Standard Industrial Classification (ASIC) introduced; revised in 1973, 1978 and 1983.

  • Introduction of monthly statistics (in addition to the quarterly and annual statistics).
  • Cause of dispute classification revised.

  • Disputes and the number of employees involved categorised as either new (commenced during the reporting period) or continuing (continued from the previous reporting period, or the gap from the previous stoppage was less than 2 complete months).

  • Ceased publishing quarterly statistics.
  • Estimates of loss of wages discontinued.

  • From September 1991 a single dispute affecting more than one industry and/or state is counted once in each affected industry and/or state, but only once in the broader industry or Australia total. Previously, disputes affecting more than one industry and/or state were counted as separate disputes at the industry and state level and in the industry and Australia totals.

  • The basis for the calculation of the number of disputes was changed and the series revised back to September 1991.

  • Labour Force Survey (cat. no. 6203.0) estimates used as the basis for the calculation of working days lost per thousand employees. Previously, estimates from the Survey of Employment and Earnings (cat. no. 6248.0) were used, sometimes augmented by Labour Force Survey estimates.
  • Industry classified according to the Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 1993 (cat no. 1292.0), replacing the Australian Standard Industrial Classification (ASIC). All data released electronically classified using ANZSIC from 1984.

  • Data released on a quarterly basis, no longer monthly.
  • Quarterly data collected under 6321.0.55.001. Prior to 2004, data were collected under 6321.0.
  • New classifications for ‘Cause of dispute' and 'Reason work resumed' (formerly 'Method of settlement') were introduced. Statistics based on the new classifications are available from March quarter 2003 onwards.
  • 'Duration of dispute' classification was renamed 'Working days lost per employee involved'.

  • From the March quarter industry statistics are based on Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 edition. Data on this basis are available for periods from March quarter 2008 onwards. Data on the old ANZSIC 1993 basis are available up to the December quarter 2008.

  • Working days lost per thousand employees series revised due to the labour force quarterly rebenchmarking process.

Details of definitions used in the industrial disputes collection are included in the section: Workplace Relations.