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Wednesday, 20 February 1980
Page: 182

Mr Young asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 24 October 1979:

(1   ) Has his attention been drawn to estimates by the Institute of Labour Studies that there was an increase in the numbers of those under-employed from 231,000 to 261,000 during 1978-79.

(2)   Is it a fact that the percentage of the labour force under-employed increased from 2.57 per cent in November 1977 to 4.38 per cent in August1 978.

(3)   Is it also a fact that a variation in the wording of the Australian Bureau of Statistics survey questionnaire adopted in February1978, resulted in many persons who were previously regarded as unemployed being classified as employed.

(4)   Was the Government's objective in varying the questionnaire a reduction in the number of those officially classified as unemployed; if not, what was the purpose of the change in the expression used with respect to the questions referred to in the article by Greg Hywood in the Financial Review of1 6 October1 979.

Mr Viner - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

The Australian Statistician has supplied the following answers to parts (2), (3) and (4):

(2)   The figures quoted were compiled by the Institute of Labour Studies. The Australian Bureau of Statistics does not provide estimates of underemployment as such, although data relating to certain aspects of underemployment are included in regular ABS labour force publications. The Institute compiled the figures referred to by selecting component items which it considered consistent with its definition of underemployment as 'persons who do some work (so that they are not "unemployed") but who would prefer to do more work (so that they are not "fully employed ') '.

The figures for November 1977 are not strictly comparable with those for August1978 mainly because, with the introduction of a revised questionnaire in February1978, the survey obtained particulars of persons working part-time who would have preferred to work more hours, instead of, as in earlier surveys, particulars of those who would have preferred to work full-time. Although both measures are included in the Institute's estimates there is no reference to the change in coverage from February1978 onwards.

(3)   Because of technical and operational complexities the precise effect of the introduction of the revised questionnaire could not be ascertained. Although the estimated number of employed persons increased there was also a substantial increase in the estimated number of unemployed persons.

(4)   The revision of the labour force survey questionnaire was undertaken on the initiative of the ABS as pan of its ongoing review of statistical collections and the Government was not involved.

The objective in changing the questionnaire was to provide more accurate labour force information by improving the structure of the questionnaire and making some questions easier to understand and less likely to be misinterpreted. Further details of the objectives of the redesign and copies of the old and revised questionnaires are contained in the ABS information paper Questionnaires used in the Labour Force Survey (Catalogue No. 6232.0), issued on 17 March 1978.

In his article Mr Hywood referred to a change in the lead question from 'Most of last week did you work at a job or business, or do something else?' to 'Last week did you do any work at all in a job, business or farm?', but did not mention that in the old questionnaire the first question was followed by another which asked 'Did you do any paid work at all last week or work without pay in a family business?'. The first question was merely a lead-in question which was not used to determine labour force status. It was omitted from the revised questionnaire because it tended to confuse some respondents whose labour force activity in the survey week was only a minor part of their activities during that week.

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