New subscribers to the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation indicate workers moving into the formal economy and not creation of jobs, new Chief Statistician of India Pravin Srivastava told The Indian Express. Recent revisions in past jobs data by the organisation are because of delays in employers reporting attrition, he said in the interview published on Monday.

The chief statistician of India is the secretary of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. Srivastava was appointed to the post earlier this month. The EPFO is under the control of the Ministry of Labour and Employment.

When asked whether it was right to include those changing jobs in the EPFO’s subscription numbers, Srivastava said: “I don’t think we ever talked about job creation. It was trying to say that these people have entered the formal market. They were not unemployed, they need not have been unemployed earlier.”

Subscriptions to the EPFO should be treated as a “proxy for formalisation”, as once workers join the EPFO system, they are in “decent jobs, which mean they must have access to social security and other things”, Srivastava said.

Srivastava attributed the revisions in past payrolls data to the data flow instead of the methodology. “It’s not a question of the methodology,” Srivastava told The Indian Express. “You have to appreciate the MIS [Management Information System] in context to the data flow.”

The EPFO releases payroll data every month and usually updates previous numbers too. Impressive data released earlier for months since September 2017 – which was used by the government to show positive employment numbers – was revised downward in June, July and August 2018. The numbers were revised back upward in September 2018.

Srivastava said employers may take time to submit their statutory monthly filings of data. They are penalised for delays, but the new data “gets accrued to the month when it was due”, which leads to data revisions for previous months, Srivastava said.

“There is other issue as well in terms of people leaving or attrition,” he added. “There is no time limit that you can do it, so what happens is that while I am prompt in paying the subscription dues against the member of the EPFO, there is a time lag by which I can report that the person has stopped paying. Because of this time lag, there is fluctuation in the series and you can interpret it that you have reduced the number but in fact, what has happened is that these people have started complying to submit that report to the EPFO.”

He added: “For example, a firm finds that one of their employees has no longer contributed, they can report that even six months or one year down the line, depending on their responsiveness and then September [2017] data gets revised.”

Improving datasets

Meanwhile, the ministry is also in talks with other ministries to improve the datasets, so that the regular flow of data from the administrative system can be included in the numbers. This data can be used “as an alternate and these surveys will supplement and complement rather than be a substitute”, he said.

“For example, if you take the health sector, you have the MIS and you also have the National Family Health Survey,” Srivastava said. “So we will work on ways and methods on how they can complement each other. Similarly, our PLFS [Periodic Labour Force Survey] will complement data coming from the EPFO, ESIC [Employees’ State Insurance Corporation] and NPS [National Pension Scheme].”