As of 1 January 2021, a European regulation will come into force that aims to ensure greater harmonisation between the various social statistics of European Union (EU) member states, including unemployment rates, for instance. The new regulation was drawn up by the EU’s statistical office Eurostat in consultation with the EU members. It contains a number of concrete instructions on how to conduct the labour force survey. ‘For example, a standardised questionnaire has been developed to measure unemployment,' says Martijn Souren, process manager of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) at CBS. ‘All countries must implement it in the same way.’ The new standardised questionnaire provides data that are better comparable, especially on whether or not residents are in employment and what the working hours are. Furthermore, new information is collected on income, specific populations such as migrants and people with disabilities, and false self-employment.
Questionnaire more compact
CBS is taking advantage of the adaptations from Europe to implement a number of innovations. Souren: ‘Throughout the years, CBS has kept its surveys as consistent as possible . Now that the European regulation requires us to make changes, we are taking the opportunity to further improve the survey.' So far, the LFS in the Netherlands has been in the form of a so-called household survey, i.e. all the questions relate to multiple members of a household. Souren: ‘This is going to change in 2021. By then, all members of a household will be asked once about their level of education, whether they have a job, how many hours they work and what type of employment contract they have. We will only put the other questions to the person who received our invitation to take part in the survey. This will make the new questionnaire more compact. We also expect the quality of the answers to improve as respondents will mainly reply for themselves and not on behalf of other household members.’
Answering all questions online
A number of technological innovations will be implemented in 2021 as well. This will make it easier to fill in the questionnaire on a smartphone, for example. Björn Janssen, project leader for data collection at CBS: ‘An important change is that respondents will be able to complete the entire survey online. The LFS consists of five parts, and at the moment only the questions from the first part can be answered online. For the other questions, interviewers call respondents on the phone. In the future, this will only happen when people do not respond using the Internet. That way, data collection also becomes more efficient and less costly for CBS.’
Labour market dynamics
A major advantage of the redesigned labour force survey is that it is more in line with the current situation on the labour market. Souren: ‘We will cover the type of employment contract more specifically. For self-employed, the questionnaire has been adapted to their work situation. We continue to pay attention to topics for which there is an additional information request: for example, how far in advance are on-call workers called or cancelled, and how often does this happen? How often do new employment situations arise and are transition payments being made? And what about combining work and informal care in the Netherlands?’
CBS is currently conducting a pilot survey with the new questionnaire and the new way of collecting data. So far, the results have been positive: a larger proportion of the people contacted participate in the survey and the questionnaire is increasingly being completed online. Respondents spend less time than before: around 10 minutes on average. The telephone interviewers who work with the new questionnaire are positive as well. Their experience is that the questions are more closely connected with the situation of self-employed workers (so-called zzp’ers) and flex-workers, and that respondents are able to answer them more easily as a result.
The new survey will be implemented step by step in CBS’ statistical practice. ‘In the last quarter of 2020, we are going to run parallel surveys,’ says Janssen. ‘We’ll be conducting both the new and the existing survey so we can compare the two. A lot will change, so we'll monitor whether this has an effect on the figures and if so, how we can make the new figures match the old ones as much as possible. Eurostat is making funding available to make the transition as smooth as possible.’ During the transition to the new LFS, CBS is in constant consultation with users, including national and local authorities, research institutes and planning agencies. Souren: 'The contacts with stakeholders is going to become increasingly relevant and will be intensified in the coming year.’
Fully comparable European figures are key to European policy-making. Anne Clémenceau, head of Eurostat's labour market and lifelong learning department: ‘For example, labour market statistics are needed for economic policy coordination within the European Semester, where countries discuss and monitor their economic and budgetary plans. They are also used for the European Pillar of Social Rights, which aims to promote equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions and social protection and inclusion. In addition, labour market data provide important information on the impact of digitisation, globalisation, ageing and the transition to a green economy on our society and economy.’ From 2021 onwards, the new European regulation will require EU countries to apply the same concepts and methods of data collection and reporting in Eurostat’s social surveys.
The initial results from the new survey are expected in the first half of 2021.