Updated 13 April 2018
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Statistics and Mapping Section
This guide provides a brief overview of
employment, an introduction to the key concepts and terminology, and lists
relevant data sources. This is one in a series of statistical quick guides,
designed to provide a basic understanding of Australian labour market data.
Other guides include labour
unemployment, which are available from the Parliamentary
In the labour force framework, employed
people form part of the economically active population, who along with the
unemployed constitute the labour force (see diagram below).
Source: ABS, Labour Statistics: Concepts, sources and methods, Feb
2018, cat. no. 6102.0.55.001
Who are employed people?
Labour Organization (ILO) (p.21) describes employed people as those of
working age who during a short reference period (e.g. week) engaged in any
activity to produce goods or provide services for pay or profit (e.g.
employees, self-employed). This includes employed persons “at work” (i.e. at
least one hour) and those who were “not at work”, either temporarily, or due to
working-time arrangements (e.g. shift roster).
While one hour of work is acknowledged as
being insufficient to survive on, it is also argued that all work, no matter
how small an amount, contributes to the economy. Using the parameter of ‘one
hour or more’ consistently across countries allows employment figures to be
compared internationally. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)
suggests that any cut-off point is subject to debate. For example, using 15
hours per week as the definition of employed would exclude people who worked
14.5 hours, but there may be little difference between these two workers and
one would be classified as ‘employed’ and the other as ‘unemployed’. The ABS
also acknowledges that some people who work limited hours choose to do so,
while others do not. The theme of Underemployment
(e.g. workers who would prefer to work more hours) is covered in a separate quick
Full-time and part-time workers
By collecting information on people who work
‘one hour or more’, the ABS is able to compile a range of hours-related data, including
those who work full-time or part-time, or distributions of work hour patterns.
The monthly Labour
Force release includes trend, seasonally adjusted and original estimates of
people employed full-time (35 hours or more) and part-time (less than 35
hours). The detailed
monthly release includes estimates of actual and usual hours worked. The quarterly
release provides actual hours worked by industry, by occupation, or by
status in employment. The more detailed hours worked data also allows for customised
definitions of employment to be calculated.
How is employment measured?
The ABS conducts a monthly Labour
Force Survey. This household survey is designed to produce key
estimates of employment (and unemployment) from a sample of approximately 50,000
people. The survey’s definition of employment closely aligns with international
standards and guidelines.
Employed persons are those aged 15 years and over who, during the reference
- worked for one hour or more for
pay, profit, commission or payment in-kind, in a job or business or on a farm
(employees and owner managers), or
- worked for one hour or more
without pay in a family business or on a farm (contributing family workers), or
- had a job, business or farm, but were
temporarily not at work (see below).
Note that the Labour Force Survey
excludes some groups of people, including those living in institutions, members
of permanent defence forces, certain diplomatic personnel, and overseas
residents. More information is available from the ABS.
Temporary absences from work
Employees who had a job, who were not
at work during the reference week but met the following criteria, are counted
as employed. The period of absence was:
less than four weeks up to the end of the reference week, or more
than four weeks up to the end of the reference week but pay was received for
some or all of the four week period, or
due to a standard work or shift
being on strike or locked out, or
being on workers' compensation and expected to return to their
Owner managers (i.e. self-employed) who
had a job, business or farm, but were not at work during the reference week are
still considered to be employed, as there is an implied attachment to work
through the operation of an enterprise.
Contributing family workers, that is,
those people who usually work without pay in an economic enterprise owned by a
relative, but were absent from work during the reference week are not
considered to be employed as they neither received pay nor operated an
What are the key measures?
The number of employed people (head
month the ABS
estimates the number of employed people aged 15 years and over. Data is
available by age, sex, social marital status, country of birth (limited), state
or territory of residence, labour market region, full-time educational
attendance (youth only), status in employment (e.g. employee, employer), and
Chart 1 (below) provides employed people by
sex from the start of the data series until the most recent period. Changes in
the level, or number, of employed people (increases or decreases in the number
of ‘workers’) are sometimes mistakenly referred to as gains or losses of jobs. However,
the number of jobs and employed people are not interchangeable, see the
Parliamentary Library FlagPost, ‘Employed
people or jobs: semantics or an important difference in terminology?’
Source: ABS, Labour force, Feb 2018, cat. no. 6202.0
Employment to population ratio
is employed people expressed as a proportion of the civilian population (in the
same age group). The ratio is useful for examining trends in employment over
time as it allows for fluctuations in the size of the population. Chart 2 (on
the next page) provides the employment to population ratio by sex from the start
of the data series until the most recent period.
to population ratio—trend
Source: ABS, Labour force, Feb 2018, cat. no. 6202.0
Other employment rates
Employment rates are used to express the number of employed people as a proportion of a comparable total
population—for example, the number of employed people in the working age
population (15 to 64 years). Due to differing methods in calculating the
unemployment rate, employment rates can be used as an alternate method of
comparison when describing labour market conditions across countries or within
populations. They are often used to assess employment by socio-demographic
characteristics, such as gender, age or educational attainment. Chart 3 (below)
provides the annual average employment rate by age for 2017. This calculation
expresses each age group of workers as a proportion of all people in that same age
group, by sex.
Employment rate by selected age groups, 2017—annual average
Source: ABS, Labour force, detailed – electronic delivery, Feb 2018, cat. no. 6291.0.55.001
Where do I find regional data?
The following sources provide regular employment
data for the smallest geographic areas available (excluding the Census):
Most of the data is from the original
(unadjusted) series and, due to the small sample sizes, the sampling errors
with some estimates may be quite high. The use of an annual average is
recommended, as is caution when interpreting the data.
What is Statistical Area Level 4
An SA4, also referred to as a ‘Labour market
region’, is a geographic area designed for the dissemination of labour force
estimates. SA4s generally reflect key labour market areas within each state and
territory. The Labour Force Survey provides data for 87 spatial areas across
Australia. For more information see Australian
Statistical Geography Standard (ASGS): Volume 1 – Main structure and Greater
capital city statistical areas, July 2016, cat. no. 1270.0.55.001 (Main
Structure > Statistical Area Level 4 (SA4)). The Parliamentary Library
provides a correspondence between Commonwealth Electoral Divisions and selected
geographies (including SA4s) via the Library portal,
see ‘Your electorate’ > ‘Population’.
Where do I find data for smaller
geographic areas (e.g. Census)?
The ABS is responsible for collecting and disseminating
results from the five-yearly Census of Population and Housing. The most
recent Census was held in August 2016. The General
Community Profile series provides selected information for small
statistical areas, including Commonwealth Electoral Divisions (2016 boundaries).
The data set includes: labour force status (by age and sex), employment rates,
full-time and part-time workers, industry of employment and occupation.
What other ABS employment data is
ABS monthly Labour
Force Survey (cat. no. 6202.0) is the key source of regular
employment data. Labour data is also available from a range of
supplementary household surveys, social surveys and some business surveys, some
of these are summarised below.
release contains estimates of employed people by a range of characteristics,
including: sex, age, state/territory, employment status (e.g. part-time),
country of birth (broad groupings), status of employment (e.g. employees
with/out paid leave entitlements), industry, occupation, sector, hours worked, weekly/hourly
earnings, trade union membership and more. The microdata release also provides
some survey data by SA4s.
release contains a range of earnings estimates by various employee
characteristics, including: sex, age, rate of pay (e.g. junior), method of pay
setting (e.g. award), employment status (e.g. full-time), employee type (e.g.
permanent), occupation, industry, state/territory, employer size and sector.
This release contains data on employee
earnings by sex, sector, state/territory and industry.
Where do I find data on ‘casuals’?
A widely used proxy measure for ‘casuals’ is
employees without paid leave entitlements. This means that these
employees do not receive pay for holidays, sick leave, or both. Generally,
these people will receive some form of additional pay to compensate for the
lack of paid leave entitlements (e.g. casual loading). For more information on
casual employees, refer to the Parliamentary Library Statistical Snapshot: Update
to casual employee estimates–2004 to 2017.
What other data sources may be
The Statistics and Mapping Section of the
Parliamentary Library provide regular updates on employed persons (based on ABS
data) in the Monthly
Statistical Bulletin, see ‘1.1 Employment’.
Department of Jobs and Small
The Department of Jobs and Small Business publishes
regional labour force data by ABS Labour force regions (SA4s) and Employment
regions (Centrelink framework of 51 areas) through the Labour Market Information Portal.
Included are: the employment rate (15–64 years), occupation and industry of
employment. The portal includes interactive maps and time series charts. The
Department’s Job outlook
portal provides industry divisions by detailed (unit group) occupations.
Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD)
OECD Data provides
summary employment indicators, including comparison employment rates, for OECD
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