The main statistical objective of the EU Labour Force Survey (EU LFS) is to divide the population of working age (15 years and above) into three mutually exclusive and exhaustive groups - persons in employment, unemployed persons and inactive persons - and to provide descriptive and explanatory data on each of these categories.
Respondents are assigned to one of these groups on the basis of the most objective information possible obtained through the survey questionnaire, which principally relates to their actual activity within a particular reference week.
The concepts and definitions used in the survey are based on those contained in the 'Recommendation of the 13th International Conference of Labour Statisticians', convened in 1982 by the International Labour Organisation (hereafter referred to as the 'ILO guidelines').
To further improve comparability within the EU, Commission Regulation (EC) No 1897/2000, gives a more precise definition of unemployment. This definition remains fully compatible with the International Labour Organisation standards.
The following is a description of the main dimensions of the EU LFS. Further detail in particular on the definition of employment and unemployment is available in Statistics Explained.
The economically active population comprises employed and unemployed persons.
Employed persons are persons:
- aged 15 year and over (16 and over in ES, IT, UK and SE (1995-2001); 15-74 years in DK, EE, HU, LV, FI and SE (from 2001 onwards); 16-74 in IS and NO),
- who during the reference week performed work, even for just one hour a week, for pay, profit or family gain,
- who were not at work but had a job or business from which they were temporarily absent because of, e.g., illness, holidays, industrial dispute or education and training.
Unemployed persons are persons:
- aged 15-74 (in ES, IT, SE (1995-2000), UK, IS and NO: 16-74),
- who were without work during the reference week, but currently available for work,
- who were either actively seeking work in the past four weeks or who had already found a job to start within the next three months.
Inactive persons are those who neither classified as employed nor as unemployed.
Employers employing one or more employees are defined as persons who work in their own business, professional practice or farm for the purpose of earning a profit, and who employ at least one other person.
Self-employed persons not employing any employees are defined as persons who work in their own business, professional practice or farm for the purpose of earning a profit, and who employ no other persons.
Employees are defined as persons who work for a public or private employer and who receive compensation in the form of wages, salaries, fees, gratuities, payment by results or payment in kind; non-conscript members of the armed forces are also included.
Family workers are persons who help another member of the family to run a farm or other business, provided they are not classed as employees.
The classification used for economic activities is the Statistical Classification of Economic Activities (NACE Rev. 1, from 2005 NACE Rev. 1.1 from 2008 NACE Rev. 2). It is based on the 3 digit level for the main job and 2 digit level for other job descriptions.
The classification used for occupation is the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO-88 (Com)) on 4 digit level for the main job and 3 digit level for the previous occupation.
This variable refers to the main job. The distinction between full-time and part-time work is based on a spontaneous response by the respondent (except in the Netherlands, Iceland and Norway where part-time is determined if the usual hours are fewer than 35 hours and full-time if the usual hours are 35 hours or more, and in Sweden where this criterion is applied to the self-employed). It is not possible to establish a more precise distinction between full-time and part-time employment, since working hours differ between Member States and between branches of activity.
Employees with fixed-term contracts
In the majority of Member States, most jobs are based on written work contracts. In some countries, however, contracts of this type are concluded only in specific cases (e.g. for public-sector jobs, apprentices or other trainees within an enterprise). Given these institutional discrepancies, the concepts of 'temporary employment' and 'work contract of limited duration' (or 'permanent employment' and 'work contract of unlimited duration') describe situations which, in different institutional contexts, may be considered similar. Employees with a limited duration job/contract are employees whose main job will terminate either after a period fixed in advance, or after a period not known in advance, but nevertheless defined by objective criteria, such as the completion of an assignment or the period of absence of an employee temporarily replaced.
The following belong to these categories: Persons with seasonal employment, persons engaged by an agency or employment exchange and hired to a third party to perform a specific task (unless there is a written work contract of unlimited duration with the agency or employment exchange), and persons with specific training contracts.
Total duration of temporary job or work contract of limited duration
This refers to the total of the time already elapsed plus the time remaining until the end of the contract.
Usual hours worked are the modal value of the actual hours worked per week over a long reference period, excluding weeks when an absence from work occurs (e.g. holidays, leaves, strikes, ...).
Actual hours worked in the reference week are the hours the person spent in work activities during the reference week. Work activities should include production activities, ancillary activities, short pauses and education and training which is necessary for successfully carrying out of either the production or ancillary activities.
Actual hours worked should exclude travel time between home and the place of work, the main meal breaks, absences from work within the working period for personal reasons and education and training hours which are not necessary for carrying out the production or ancillary activities.
Duration of unemployment
Duration of unemployment is defined as the duration of search for a job, or the length of the period since the last job was held (if this period is shorter than the duration of search for a job).
Involuntary part-time employment
This is when respondents declare that they work part-time because they are unable to find full-time work.
Working at home
Working at home means doing any productive work related to the person's current job(s) at home. This concept applies also to many self-employed persons exercising, for example, an artistic or liberal profession and working solely or partly at home, often in a part of the premises set aside for the purpose.
However, if the workplace consists of a separate unit adjacent to the person’s living unit but with a separate entrance (a doctor's consulting room or a tax consultant's office for example), the work done on these premises should not be classed as 'working at home'.
Similarly, a farmer should not be considered as 'working at home' when occupied in fields or buildings adjacent to his or her home.
Other typical examples of 'working at home' include sales representatives who prepare at home for the meetings they are to conduct with clients in their offices or homes, and persons doing typing or knitting which is then sent to a central collection point.
Asocial working time
Evening or night work is a concept not easily established on a strictly uniform basis for all Member States since the definitions of evening and night differ widely. In general, however, 'evening work' must be considered to be work done after usual working hours but before the usual hours of sleep in the Member State concerned. It implies the opportunity to sleep at normal times. 'Night work' must be generally considered to be work done during usual sleeping hours and implies abnormal sleeping times.
Saturday or Sunday working is a concept interpreted strictly on the basis of formal agreements concluded with the employer. Employees taking office work home and/or occasionally working at the workplace on Saturday or Sunday are not generally included under this heading.
Shift-work is a concept applicable only to employees. 'Shift work' means any method of organising work in shifts whereby workers succeed each other at the same work stations according to a certain pattern, including a rotating pattern, and which may be continuous or discontinuous, entailing the need for workers to work at different times over a given period of days or weeks.
Shift work usually involves work on unsocial hours in the early morning, at night or in the weekend and the weekly rest days do not always coincide with the normal rest days.
Shift work should imply changes in the working schedule. Persons having fixed assignment to a given shift should not be considered as shift-workers, even if their working schedules are defined in their establishment in terms of shift work.