For decades the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has
collected statistics on industrial disputes and published them
monthly in Industrial Disputes Australia, ABS Catalogue 6321.0.
Selected data from this publication have been available for many
years in this Monthly Economic and Social Indicators (MESI)
publication and more recently in MESI e-data available on-line for
people connected to the parliamentary network. These data are
available from 1959.
The ABS monthly publication ceased in December 2003. It was
replaced with a quarterly publication only available electronically
and showing data from the March quarter 1985 (ABS Catalogue
The ABS defines an industrial dispute as ‘a state of
disagreement over an issue or group of issues between an employer
and its employees, which results in employees ceasing work.
Industrial disputes comprise strikes, which are a withdrawal from
work by a group of employees; and lockouts, which are a refusal by
an employer or group of employers to permit some or all of their
employees to work’.
Only disputes that amount to ten or more working days lost are
included in the statistics.
Many industrial disputes data series are available, including a
new measure that shows days lost due to enterprise bargaining.
However, MESI publishes just two indicators of industrial
disputes—working days lost and working days lost per thousand
Working days lost
Working days lost includes those working days lost by employees
involved directly in disputes and by those stood down because of
disputes. There are no changes in definition between the old
monthly series and the new quarterly series. The quarterly series
are simply aggregations of the (now no longer available) monthly
data. Thus annual totals remain the same. Figure 1 shows working
days lost each quarter since the March quarter 1959, quarterly data
prior to March 1985 being calculated from the now discontinued
monthly data series.
Working days lost per thousand employees
This measure is an attempt to remove the effect that a growing
workforce has on the size of the figures—a larger workforce
will have more disputes and more working days lost, all other
things being equal.
The monthly figures produced until December 2003 and still
available on MESI e-data show working days lost per thousand
employees for the 12 months ending in the reporting month. Hence it
is the sum of 12 months of working days lost data divided by the
number of employees in the period multiplied by 1000. Employees, of
course, does not include employers or own-account workers.
By contrast, the new quarterly figures show for each quarter how
many working days have been lost per thousand employees in that
quarter. These latter figures, therefore, are about one quarter the
magnitude of the old figures produced from monthly data. For
technical reasons it is not possible to use monthly data to
calculate this data series for the time before 1985.
Figure 2 shows quarterly data for working days lost per thousand
employees since the start of 1985.
MESI Table 1.8
Monthly Economic and Social Indicators Table 1.8 shows:
- quarterly data on working days lost due to industrial
- annual totals of working days lost and
- quarterly working days lost per thousand employees.
Quarterly data on working days lost per thousand employees are
graphed to show the movement in the series over the past few
MESI e-data Table 1.8
For reasons explained above, MESI e-data quarterly series for
industrial disputes begins with the March quarter 1959 for working
days lost and the March quarter 1985 for working days lost per
thousand employees. Monthly data, though no longer being updated,
are still available as e-data from January 1959 to December 2003
for working days lost and from December 1981 to December 2003 for
working days lost per thousand employees. These data are available
for people connected to the parliamentary network.
1. ABS 6321.0.55.001, Glossary.
This feature was prepared by Greg Baker
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