Industrial Disputes, Australia methodology

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Reference period
March 2024


Statistics on the number of industrial disputes, working days lost and employees involved in industrial disputes are obtained from the Industrial Disputes (ID) collection.

Concepts, sources and methods

Statistics on industrial disputes are based on concepts and definitions outlined in international guidelines adopted by the 1993 International Conference of Labour Statisticians. Descriptions of the underlying concepts of Australia's industrial disputes statistics, and the sources and methods used in compiling these estimates, are presented in Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods, which is available on the ABS web site.


Industrial disputes are included within the scope of the ID collection if the work stoppages amount to 10 or more working days lost within a month. Ten working days lost 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 two hour stop work meeting (assuming they worked an eight hour day). Disputes which involve the equivalent of less than 10 working days lost are excluded.

The following types of industrial disputes are within the scope of the ID collection:

  • unauthorised stopwork 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 (i.e. strikes which occur when workers at different locations take turns to stop work);
  • unofficial strikes; and
  • work stoppages initiated by employers (e.g. lockouts).

Excluded from the scope of the collection are 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 be resolved and it is excluded from the scope of the collection from the date of the employment termination.

Collection methodology

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), state industrial relations commissions, and contact with government organisations, businesses, employer associations and trade unions. Although every attempt is made to identify all disputes that occurred in the month, 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 to employers, on the nature and extent of the dispute. Telephone follow-up and some written reminders of outstanding returns are undertaken after the due date. If partial responses are received some data, e.g. working days lost in a particular strike, may be imputed. 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.

A dispute affecting several locations is counted as a single dispute if it is organised or directed by the same organisation (e.g. a trade union) or person; otherwise it is counted as a separate dispute at each location where it occurred.

A dispute affecting more than one state and/or industry is counted in each state and/or industry in which it occurred, but only once for Australia in total and for the total of all industries.

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' explained above, data relating to disputes which ended in the quarter can not 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.


Data classified by industry is primarily based on the main activity of the employer of the employees involved in the dispute at the location or site where the industrial dispute occurred.

The March quarter 2009 was the first quarter to be published solely on the basis of Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006 edition. This edition replaced the 1993 edition which had been in use since 1994. The 2006 edition of ANZSIC was developed to provide a more contemporary industrial classification system taking into account issues such as changes in the structure and composition of the economy, changing user demands and compatibility with major international classification standards.

Data for all quarters of 2008 are available on the basis of both editions of ANZSIC. Industry data up to December quarter 2007 are only available on an ANZSIC 1993 basis.

For more information on the industry classification, refer to Australian and New Zealand Standard Industrial Classification (ANZSIC), 2006.

Data classified by state/territory is based on the location or site where the industrial dispute occurred. Disputes that occur in the Australian territories of Jervis Bay Territory, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are classified to the State/Territory which holds jurisdiction over industrial relations matters.

Reliability of estimates

Estimates from the ID collection are subject to non-sampling error. Non-sampling error arises from inaccuracies in collecting, recording and processing the data. Every effort is made to minimise non-sampling error by the careful design of questionnaires and by efficient data collection and processing procedures.

Data comparability over time

Changes which have affected data comparability over time are discussed in Chapter 26 of Labour Statistics: Concepts, Sources and Methods.

Related publications

Users may also wish to refer to the following publications which are available from the ABS web site:


Where estimates have been rounded, discrepancies may occur between sums of the component items and totals.

Suppression of data

Some data may be suppressed to prevent disclosure, either directly or by inference, of information relating to individual organisations. These data have been replaced by the symbol 'np', but are included in totals.


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