A ROBUST national statistical system is pivotal for development, equitable growth and planning as it facilitates evidence-based policies and, judicious and timely decision-making to achieve goals set by the country.
The system comprises official bodies that gather information and statistics through surveys and censuses on diverse aspects such as the economy and labour, demography and sociology, trade and business, politics and culture, housing, health and education, etc.
In Pakistan we do have a national statistical system which is ever evolving and improving. However, as a people we seem averse to documentation and evidence-based policies. No wonder the state and political elite have been evading the population census since the last 17 years.
We seem averse to policies on statistics.
The British started the census in the areas comprising Pakistan in 1881 and carried out decennial census every 10 years till 1941. After independence, five population censuses were held (1951, 1961, 1972, 1981, 1998). After the fourth census, democratically elected governments showed aversion for evidence-based policies and equitable development hence for enumeration of the population.
The fifth census was held after 17 years in 1998 and now the sixth census has been announced for March 2016, after a lapse of 18 years! The decennial census is delayed due to political reasons: allocation of the National Assembly seats, distribution of funds between the federation and the provinces made through NFC and the quota for recruitment to federal posts are all worked out on the basis of population census.
Besides district gazetteers since the earlier days of the Raj, the British started the monthly thematic gazetteer, Indian Labour Gazette in 1943 which documented facts, figures, news and research on labour. After independence, it was titled the Pakistan Labour Gazette but soon its frequency dwindled from monthly to quarterly in the 1950s and 1960s and its content diminished.
In the 1970s, it was turned into an annual publication. Its 1974 edition comprised volumes 23- 26. Finally, it closed down. On the other side of the border, the Indian Labour Gazette was re-titled the Indian Labour Journal and continues as a monthly publication till today, disseminating latest labour statistics and research.
The decline in documenting labour affairs by relevant departments, set in the early decades, has hit rock bottom. With the exception of the Labour Force Survey — a household-based survey with a wide coverage of the population — undertaken annually by the Federal Bureau of Statistics since 1963, there is no other regular source of specific information on labour.
During the last 51 years, the LFS methodology, sampling frame, concepts and definitions have been improved several times. There have been times when the annual Labour Force Survey is missed. The quarterly reports and the annual Labour Force Survey 2013-2014 have still not been released by the Federal Bureau of Statistics.
Of the several gaps and omissions of the labour survey, the most crucial is the age of ‘economically active population’ which is defined as “all persons 10 years of age and above”. This definition is contradictory to the definitions given in the Constitution of Pakistan and the national law on child labour, which sets the limit of 14 years for the person to enter labour market. Also, the ILO core labour convention (No.138) on the minimum age stipulates that the person entering the labour force should not “…be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling and, in any case, shall not be less than 15 years”.
Labour market information and analysis is pivotal for economic and social planning and considered, as articulated by the ILO, “…the cornerstone for developing integrated strategies to promote standards and fundamental principles and rights at work, productive employment, social protection and dialogue, as well as to address the cross-cutting themes of gender and development”. Pakistan has not as yet ratified the ILO Labour Statistics Convention No.160 (1985) that mandates the ratifying countries to regularly collect, compile and publish basic labour statistics as specified in its guidelines.
In many countries, population censuses are used to enhance data on economically active population. In such cases, population census is designed to have two components: an enumeration of the population and its basic demographic and related characteristics on a 100pc basis, supplemented by a large sample, attached to the census, covering a range of labour market indicators. As the next population census will be held in 2016, it is time to consider this option.
Also, the survey should take into account the revised international standards on statistics of the economically active population, employment, unemployment and underemployment, including measures of labour underutilisation to supplement the unemployment rate, as spelt out in the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians organised by the ILO in 2013.
The writer is associated with the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research.
Published in Dawn, May 14th, 2015