The country’s formal labour market witnessed a slowdown in February, with fewer fresh jobs being created, the latest payroll data released by the Employee Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) showed on Saturday.

The number of new monthly subscribers to the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF) declined nearly 3.7 per cent in February to 777,717 from 807,865 the previous month. This is crucial, as only the formal workforce enjoys social security benefits and is protected by labour laws. By comparison, 764,106 subscribers had joined the EPF in February 2023.

In what suggests some robustness, 516,619 of the total new EPF subscribers in February (nearly 67 per cent) belong to the 18-28 age group, a cohort mostly comprised of new entrants to the labour market.

The share of women in total new subscribers increased slightly to 26.4 per cent (205,386), compared with 25.32 per cent (204,569) the previous month.

Meanwhile, net payroll additions — calculated by considering the number of new subscribers, those that exited, and the old subscribers who returned to the social-security organisation — also declined by 3.4 per cent to 1.54 million in February from 1.60 million in January. Net monthly payroll numbers, however, are provisional in nature and are often revised sharply the next month. So, the new EPF subscriber figure is considered more reliable than net additions.

“The payroll data highlights that about 1.8 million members exited and subsequently rejoined EPFO. These members switched their jobs and rejoined the establishments covered under the EPFO and opted to transfer their accumulations instead of applying for final settlement, thus safeguarding their long-term financial well-being and extending their social security protection,” the labour ministry said in a statement.

According to Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a private agency that conducts its own Consumer Pyramids Household Survey (CPHS), the labour markets deteriorated in February as the unemployment rate increased to 8 per cent from 6.8 per cent the previous month on the back of an increase in unemployment in rural areas.

The rural unemployment rate increased sharply to 7.8 per cent in February from 5.8 per cent in January, while urban unemployment rate fell from 8.9 per cent to 8.5 per cent during the same period. The labour force participation rate (LFPR) climbed to 41.4 per cent in February, from 40.6 per cent the previous month.

The monthly EPF subscription data released by the labour ministry is part of the government’s effort to track formal job creation in the country by using payrolls as a measure.

First Published: Apr 20 2024 | 8:30 PM IST

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