Recounting Zambia’s employment figures

IN ZAMBIA, national labour statistics are produced by the Central Statistical Office (CSO) through the Labour Force Survey (LFS). From 2017, the LFS will be conducted quarterly as opposed to every two years.

In addition to quarterly LFS, CSO will now use new standards and measurement of labour statistics agreed upon at the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS) of 2013. The ICLS is a meeting held every five years since 1923 to discuss and consider revised labour-related standards including statistics.

These developments imply that labour statistics will not only be released at a higher frequency but will also be more current. This article reflects on the new measures and what they mean for the way Government measures employment.
As opposed to the previous measurement of employment, which included individuals engaged in own-use production work, such as subsistence farmers that produce mainly for own consumption, the new standard of measurement defines the employed population as constituting individuals engaged in activities aimed at producing goods and services for profit or pay such as farming mainly for sell. This means that individuals who produce goods and services mainly for own consumption will not be considered as employed. The 2014 LFS reveals that 1.4 million people are own-use production workers – mainly subsistence farmers – representing 25 percent of the employed population. This means the employed population measured on the basis of the new standard would reduce roughly by 25 percent. Effectively, this change in the measurement of employment will reduce the size of the labour force.
It is, however, worth noting that own-use production workers will be analysed and accounted for separately.
Further, individuals engaged in own-use production work are deemed as potential labour force, depending on whether they are either seeking paid work/business or are available for work, but not both.
Nonetheless, these changes will not affect the computation of gross domestic product (GDP), which is a measure of all goods and services produced in an economy.
In addition, the past labour force framework classified students, children and the aged as economically-inactive. Under the revised framework, such persons are referred to as persons outside the labour force, who according to the new resolution may still be engaged in other forms of work.
Until 2014, Zambia has been undertaking LFSs on the basis of the standard set out at the 13th ICLS of 1982.
However, a lot of changes have occurred since 1982, which have led to the need to address the limitations in the measurement of work and employment statistics.
Hence, the 19th ICLS resolved to redefine the concept of work and employment statistics in order to respond to the emerging labour market dynamics. To this effect, the Government has adopted the new standard of 2013.
Admittedly, the new statistics especially on employment will assist in addressing some of the shortcomings of defining employment based on profit or pay criterion. The definition of employment only looks at the economic activity that is for pay or profit but does not consider the quality of the economic activity.
Most people in Zambia, despite being categorised as employed, do not consider themselves employed on the basis of poor working conditions under which they operate.
As such, most of these jobs would mainly be classified as vulnerable employment. According to a study conducted by ZIPAR in 2013 on youth employment and unemployment in Zambia, most youths did not consider jobs with poor working conditions, including self-employment, as real jobs.
The World Bank, in its 2013 Economic Brief for Zambia, stated that most people are in self-employment not by choice but as a result of the inability to find a formal job. Further, the 2014 LFS reveals that of the 5.8 million employed persons, approximately 2.4 million people were self-employed, many of whom have sporadic incomes, lack social security and insurance.
Statistics of the labour market indicators are very useful in assessing the health of the economy and are critical for national planning. Thus, statistics as much as possible should reflect the realities on the ground.
We understand that the definitions should conform to international standards so as to make statistics comparable but the need to capture statistics that speak to most Zambians is of paramount importance.
It is, therefore, our considered view that an inclusion of self-assessed employment status, as is the case for poverty in the Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (LCMS), be introduced in the LFSs.
The author is a researcher at the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR).
For details contact: The Executive Director, ZIPAR, corner of John Mbita and Nationalist roads, CSO Annex building, P.O. Box 50782, Lusaka. Telephone: +260 211 252559. Email:


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