EU labour force survey – main features and legal basis

This article explains the main features of the European labour force survey (EU-LFS) and gives an overview on the legal basis of the EU-LFS. It describes briefly the survey design and data collection, gives an overview on the main concepts used in the EU-LFS and provides the user with information on the legal basis of the EU-LFS. It covers persons in private households.

This article is part of a set of online articles on the EU-LFS.

Full article

Main features of the EU-LFS

Type of survey and scope of the data

The EU-LFS is the largest European household sample survey providing quarterly and annual results on labour participation of people aged 15 and over as well as on persons outside the labour force. It covers residents in private households. The EU-LFS is an important source of information about the situation and trends in the EU labour market. For an overview on the availability of the results, please consult: EU-LFS data and publication.

The EU-LFS currently covers thirty-five countries (participating countries) providing Eurostat with data from national labour force surveys: the 28 Member States of the European Union, three EFTA countries (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland), and four candidate countries, i.e. Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey. The EU-LFS is conducted by the national statistical institutes in accordance with Council Regulation (EEC) No. 577/98 of 9 March 1998 and the data are centrally processed by Eurostat.

The national statistical institutes of the Member States are responsible for designing national questionnaires, drawing the sample, conducting interviews and sending results to the Commission (Eurostat) in accordance with a common coding scheme established by Commission Regulation (EC) No 377/2008. Eurostat is in charge of monitoring the implementation of Regulation (EC) No 577/98, providing assistance to national statistical institutes, promoting harmonised concepts and methods, and disseminating comparable national and European labour market statistics.

Each quarter around 1.7 million interviews are conducted throughout the participating countries to obtain statistical information for some 100 variables. Due to the diversity of information and the large sample size the EU-LFS is also an important source for other European statistics like Education statistics or Regional statistics.

Statistical objectives and data typology

The main statistical objective of the EU-LFS is to divide the resident population of working age (15 years and above) into three mutually exclusive and exhaustive groups - persons employed, unemployed and economically inactive persons - and to provide descriptive and explanatory data on each of these categories. Respondents are assigned to one of these groups according to international classification on the basis of the information obtained through the survey questionnaire, which principally relates to their actual activity within a particular reference week. The EU-LFS defines the resident population as persons living in private households.

The EU-LFS data collection covers demographic background, labour status, employment characteristics of the main job, hours worked, employment characteristics of the second job, time-related underemployment, search for employment, education and training, previous work experience of persons not in employment, situation one year before the survey, main labour status and income.

While demographic data are gathered for population of all ages, questions relating to labour market status are restricted to persons in the age group 15 years or older.

Depending on the labour status of individuals (employed, unemployed, economically inactive) different variables are collected.

Typology to classify the statistical information (variables) of the EU-LFS

To ensure the comparability of the statistical results across countries and along time the EU-LFS

For an overview of the concepts, classifications, the questionnaires and other methodological issues, please consult: EU-LFS methodology.

Legal basis

The quality of the EU-LFS is of major importance to achieve comparable EU results. An important element assuring the quality of the EU-LFS are the regulations on the organisation of the EU-LFS in the European Community. They stipulate the rules and guidelines to assure the comparability of the results by regulating the survey designs, the survey characteristics, methods and the decision making processes of the EU-LFS. Major milestones for the comparability and quality of the EU-LFS were the adoption of Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 of 9 March 1998 on the organisation of a continuous, quarterly sample survey in the Community; the adoption of Commission Regulation (EC) No 1897/2000 of 7 September 2000 concerning the operational definition of unemployment and the 12 principles for formulating questions on labour status; the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 1991/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 October 2002 making the continuous survey mandatory from 2003 onwards; the adoption of Regulation (EC) No 2257/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2003 extending the survey characteristics and introducing the distinction between structural and quarterly variables.

The EU-LFS is based on European legislation since 1973. The principal legal act is the Council Regulation (EC) No. 577/98. The implementation rules are specified in the successive Commission regulations.

Users are advised to always work with the latest consolidated version of the regulation. The consolidated version and information on amendments are always listed in each regulation.

General regulations

This is the main regulation with provisions on design, survey characteristics and decision making processes.

This regulation specifies the financing provision and the sample conditions for ad hoc modules.

  • Regulation (EC) No 596/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 June 2009 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98.

This regulation specifies the organisation of the ad hoc module within the LFS.

  • Regulation (EC) No 1372/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 October 2007 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98.

This regulation changes the status of the survey characteristic 'income' from optional to mandatory.

  • Regulation (EC) No 2257/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 November 2003 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98.

This regulation introduces 6 new variables and allows the wave approach for structural variables.

This regulation puts a time limit on the adoption of the continuous LFS.

This is a documentation is the latest consolidated version with all amendments for the main regulations ((EC) No 577/98) on the organisation of a labour force survey in the Community.

Implementation regulations of the core survey

The regulation implements the codification to be used for data transmission from 2009 onwards including the compulsory survey characteristic 'income', the use of a sub-sample for the collection of data on structural variables and the definition of the reference quarters.

The regulation implements the codification to be used for data transmission from 2006 onwards and the use of a sub-sample for the collection of data on structural variables.

This regulation implements the operational definition of unemployment and contains the 12 principles for constructing the questionnaire.

This regulation provides the codification to be used for data transmission from 2001-2005. It was corrected twice: Corrigendum to Commission Regulation (EC) No 1575/2000, Corrigendum to Commission Regulation (EC) No 1575/2000.

The Annex I of the regulation defines the reference quarters for the first two years of the continuous survey and Annex IV defines the codification in force for 1998 to 2000.

Regulation concerning general classification of the EU-LFS

  • Regulation (EU) No 317/2013 of 8 April 2013 amending the Annexes to Regulations (EC) No 1983/2003, (EC) No 1738/2005, (EC) No 698/2006, (EC) No 377/2008 and (EU) No 823/2010 as regards the International Standard Classification of Education. This regulation stipulates the use of the ISCED 2011 in the LFS from 2014 onwards.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1022/2009 of 29 October 2009 amending Regulations (EC) No 1738/2005, (EC) No 698/2006 and (EC) No 377/2008 as regards the International Standard Classification of Occupations (ISCO). This regulation stipulates the use of the ISCO-08 in the LFS from 2011 onwards.
  • Regulation (EC) No 973/2007 of 20 August 2007 amending certain EC Regulations on specific statistical domains implementing the statistical classification of economic activities NACE Revision 2. Article 9 stipulates the use of NACE rev 2 in the LFS from 2008 onwards.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1059/2003 of 26 May 2003, on the establishment of a common classification of territorial units for statistics (NUTS). This regulation provides the codification of NUTS regions. The changes in codification can be found in the respective amendments.
  • Regulation (EC) No 2104/2002 of 28 November 2002 adapting Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 on the organisation of a labour force sample survey in the Community and Commission Regulation (EC) No 1575/2000 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98. This regulation provides the codification of new education variables 2003-2005.

Regulations on ad hoc modules and their topics

Regulations and ESS agreements on ad hoc modules - ad hoc modules description

  • Regulation (EU) 2017/2384 of 19 December 2017 specifying the technical characteristics of the 2019 ad hoc module on work organisation and working time arrangements.
  • Regulation (EU) 2016/2236 of 12 December 2016 specifying the technical characteristics of the 2018 ad hoc module on reconciliation between work and family life.
  • Regulation (EU) 2016/8 of 5 January 2016 specifying the technical characteristics of the 2017 ad hoc module on self-employment.
  • Regulation (EU) 2015/459 of 19 March 2015 specifying the technical characteristics of the 2016 ad hoc module on young people on the labour market.
  • ESS agreement specifying the detailed information to be collected in the 2014 ad-hoc module on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants.
  • ESS agreement specifying the detailed information to be collected in the 2013 ad-hoc module on accidents at work and other work-related health problems.
  • Regulation (EU) No 249/2011 of 14 March 2011 adopting the specifications of the 2012 ad hoc module on transition from work to retirement.
  • Regulation (EU) No 317/2010 of 16 April 2010 adopting the specifications of the 2011 ad hoc module on employment of disabled people.
  • Regulation (EC) No 20/2009 of 13 January 2009 adopting the specifications of the 2010 ad hoc module on reconciliation between work and family life.
  • Regulation (EC) No 207/2008 of 5 March 2008 adopting the specifications of the 2009 ad hoc module on the entry of young people into the labour market.
  • Regulation (EC) No 102/2007 of 2 February 2007 adopting the specifications of the 2008 ad hoc module on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants.
  • Regulation (EC) No 391/2008 of 30 April 2008 amending Regulation (EC) No 102/2007 adopting the specifications of the 2008 ad hoc module on the labour market situation of migrants and their immediate descendants.
  • Regulation (EC) No 341/2006 of 24 February 2006 adopting the specifications of the 2007 ad hoc module on accidents at work and work-related health problems.
  • Regulation (EC) No 388/2005 of 8 March 2005 adopting the specifications of the 2006 ad hoc module on transition from work into retirement.
  • Regulation (EC) No 29/2004 of 8 January 2004 adopting the specifications of the 2005 ad hoc module on reconciliation between work and family life.
  • Regulation (EC) No 247/2003 of 10 February 2003 adopting the specification of the 2004 ad hoc module on work organisation and working time arrangements.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1313/2002 of 19 July 2002 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 concerning the specification of the 2003 ad hoc module on lifelong learning.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1566/2001 of 12 July 2001 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 concerning the specification of the 2002 ad hoc module on employment of disabled people.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1578/2000 of 19 July 2000 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 concerning the specification of the 2001 ad hoc module on length and patterns of working time.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1925/1999 of 8 September 1999 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98 concerning the specification of the 2000 ad hoc module on transition from school to working life.
  • Regulation (EC) No 1571/98 of 20 July 1998 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 577/98. Annex III defines the 1999 ad hoc module on Accidents at work and occupational diseases.

Regulations on statistical confidentiality

  • Regulation (EC) No 1000/2007 of 29 August 2007 amending Regulation (EC) No 831/2002 implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 322/1997 on Community Statistics, concerning access to confidential data for scientific purposes.
  • Regulation (EU) No 557/2013 17 June 2013 implementing Regulation (EC) No 223/2009 of the European Parliament and of the Council on European Statistics as regards access to confidential data for scientific purposes and repealing Commission Regulation (EC) No 831/2002.
  • Regulation (EC) No 322/97 of 17 February 1997 and Council Regulation (EURATOM, EEC) No 1588/90 of 11 June 1990 on the transmission of the data subject to statistical confidentiality to the Statistical Office of the European Communities. The regulation stipulates the detailed rules used for receiving, processing and disseminating the confidential data.

Regulations applicable before 1998

  • Regulation (EEC) No 3711/91 of 16 December 1991 on the organisation of an annual labour force sample survey in the Community.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3569/90 of 4 December 1990 laying down amendments for the purpose of implementing in Germany Regulation (EEC) No 3044/89 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the spring of 1990 and 1991.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3044/89 of 6 October 1989 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the spring of 1990 and 1991.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3473/88 of 7 November 1988 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the Spring of 1989.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3621/87 of 1 December 1987 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the Spring of 1988.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3605/86 of 24 November 1986 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the spring of 1987.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 3530/84 of 13 December 1984 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the spring of 1985.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 276/84 of 31 January on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the Spring of 1984.
  • Regulation (EEC) No 603/83 of 14 March 1983 on the organization of a labour force sample survey in the spring of 1983.
  • Other regulations providing a legal basis for the European labour force sample survey, dating back to 1973 are not available in electronic form.
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