New Delhi: About 9.1 million people left formal jobs between September 2017 and August 2018, with only 1.85 million of them coming back to formal jobs, according to India’s latest payroll data extrapolated from the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO).

This indicates that for every nine people who left formal jobs, nearly two came back to the formal job sector.

The government did not give an exact reason why 9.1 million people left formal jobs, however experts say this could be because of several reasons, including retirement and retrenchment. This is, however, the first time since payroll data was made public in May 2018 that the government has disclosed the number of people who came back to formal jobs after quitting.

Overall, EPFO added about 14.56 million subscribers between September 2017 and August 2018.

EPFO has emerged as a key indicator of formal job creation in India for the Union government, which is facing criticism over slow jobs growth in the country as well as doubt whether EPFO data should at all be taken as a measure of job creation in the country.

The latest payroll data shows that a lot of employees above the age of 25 are ceasing subscription to EPFO by leaving formal jobs. Of the seven million people aged 25 years and above who joined the EPFO, nearly 5.63 million have left, indicating churn and instability in the job market.

“As there is no comprehensive data on employment in India, the payroll data has assumed significance. But new subscribers of EPFO do not necessarily mean new jobs in India. It can at best be formal jobs and those ceasing to subscribe to EPFO are in a way moving away from formal jobs. The reasons for them moving away is a different debate and may have been contributed to by several factors including job loss and retirement," said an EPFO official, on condition of anonymity.

The official, however, said that an independent study is needed to come up with a comprehensive answer. A government committee is working on all the payroll data collated from EPFO, the Employees State Insurance Corporation and the National Pension Scheme to suggest ways of dealing with discrepancies and overlapping of numbers.

The quality of jobs has been a nagging issue for India’s labour market and several agencies, including the International Labour Organization and the World Bank, have flagged the dire need for quality jobs in India.

The minister for labour and employment, however, has maintained that the government is “committed to job security, wage security and social security for each and every worker".

“The payroll data has limited applicability. While the addition of 14.56 million people to EPFO fold may help government correct political discourse it in no way means new jobs in the labour market. The exit of 9.1 million from EPFO during the same time also suggests that there is a huge casualisation of workforce happening within the formal sector," said K.R. ShyamSundar, a labour economist and professor at XLRI Jamshedpur