On June 27, 2017 the Royal Embassy in Kuwait alerted the Ministry of Labour and Human resources on the grievances shared by a girl working in Dubai, alleging that ‘Yarphel Overseas Recruitment Agent’ had lured and cheated 23 girls to work in Dubai by making false promises to them.
In an email written by one of them (the names of the girls have been not been revealed on their request) to the Royal Bhutan Embassy in Kuwait, she wrote that the agency’s commitment before leaving for Dubai was completely different from the actual situation upon reaching their work places.
She wrote, “We were promised eight hours working day and we were told that our workload won’t be heavy and everything will be operated by machines. Some of the girls were told that their jobs will be in hotels.”
“The agent never revealed that our job is like that of a maid having to clean construction sites, villas and private residences. We were instead told that the comany we are going to be working in is a well established company.” She also added that to make them believe in him, the proprietor of the agent made them listen to a voice message sent by one of the girls working in the same company they were to join.
She wrote that the actual working environment was totally different from what the agency had committed to and said that they are being asked to work for around 10 hours a day.
“Every day each individual is being sent for cleaning to different places, so it is not very safe for us. Sometimes our clients make us do household works like cooking and picking their kids from school,” she wrote.
She said they are not given medical leave even when they are genuinely sick and their employees instead tell them to take painkillers and work.
“We have to carry all the cleaning materials like ladder, vacuum cleaners, bucket, and mob sticks ourselves when we visit our clients, and we are always exposed to harmful chemicals. We are often degraded here with them stressing that Bhutanese are poor people and they treat us unfairly compared to other nationals working in the same company,” read the email.
Promise and reality
In the offer letter, the girls were promised to be paid a gross salary of Nu. 24,400 with free accommodation, transportations, free health insurance from the company, and 48 hours of working period in a week.
It has been found that a total of five batches of girls were sent to work as ‘cleaners’ for the V.R Maintenance Center. The first batch was sent on 18th February 2016 and the fifth and last batch on 24th May 2017.
A second girl said that none of the girls knew that they have to consult with the Labour officials before leaving for employment overseas.
“We truly didn’t know that we have to seek consultations from the concerned Labour officials. We thought that our agent is a registered license holder and we also did not have any idea that the agent did not seek approval from Labour office,” she said.
“It’s true that we Bhutanese girls are often down-looked here and made to work more hours than other nationalities,” she said.
“The Bhutanese girls are always sent individually as cleaners and it is very unsafe for us while the girls from other countries can tag along with one another. Sometimes we are asked to clean toilets with our bare hands, wash our client’s car, and although we have applied for the job as cleaners, the work is no different from that of housemaids,” she added.
“Even the company’s card reads, ‘If you want a maid, call us.’ Sonam Tobgay took our pictures and said that he’ll upload it on Facebook, but he didn’t, so that raised a hint of doubt in me on whether or not he brought us illegally but I didn’t try to verify,” she said.
All the girls this paper talked to said that they do not intend to comeback to Bhutan as many of them have loans they need to pay and they fear that they’ll not be able to help their parents if they return back. They said they would rather stay there, but work for a different company.
Embassy and MoLHR get into action
The Bhutanese Embassy in Kuwait forwarded the matter to the Labour Ministry to get into the details of the case and accordingly the concerned officials from Labour Ministry, on the same day asked the proprietor of the agency, Sonam Tobgay, to come forward and justify his acts in writing.
Ugyen Tenzin from the Chief Employment Services Division, under the Department of Employment and Human Resources said that from the complaints received, the most revealing matter is the fact that the agent did not consult and seek approval from the Labour Ministry before sending the 23 girls to work as cleaners, which is a major violation of the regulation of the Bhutanese Overseas Employment Agent.
“We have found out that the agent did not consult and seek approval from the Ministry before leaving for Dubai and neither did the girls come forward to consult with any relevant officials. Although the proprietor in his justification accepted the breach, it also indicates how our youths are tempted to leave the country with the fear that the Labour Officials might somehow object to their plans if formalities have not been met,” he said.
“We ask for authentic information because we care about their safety once they reach overseas and thus the need to scrutinize all the processes. But despite our repeated announcements, such cases keep surfacing which also shows negligence from the youths themselves and their immediate relatives,” he added.
Ugyen Tenzin said that the Bhutanese Embassy in Kuwait has asked for the details of the girls and the Company so as to follow up on the issue and help the girls.
A video and contradiction
However, another girl who supported the labour agent made a video clip on Thursday where she talked about the favorable working conditions there and said as far as she and some of her friends are concerned there is no such problems as alleged in the email.
“After the recent issue of the two consultancies surfaced on the forefront, they are taking advantage of the help rendered in such situations by the Embassy and the agencies themselves. So that is why they are venting out their trivial frustration by making it a major one. The proprietor of the agent made it clear that we will be working as cleaners and that at times we might have to work overtime and might also require deep cleaning,” said the girl. She added that the agent’s only fault was that he did not seek approval from the Labour Ministry before leaving for Dubai.
On the other hand the girl, who wrote the email to the Bhutanese Embassy along with four of her friends there said that the email was written after all the 23 girls unanimously decided to put up the complaints regarding the harsh working environment and the ill treatment the Bhutanese girls receive in comparison to other nationals.
“All of us gathered once to discuss regarding the harsh working conditions and we agreed to raise the issue to the concerned officials but I don’t know why they are not admitting to it now. I think it is because most of our parents do not know that we are working as cleaners here, so they fear that the situation might compel them to return back to Bhutan. I actually wrote the email on behalf of all the girls but they are now afraid to come forward as the matter slipped out of hand and led to the termination of the agent’s license.”
She along with four more girls said that their intention was not to terminate the license of the agent, as they only wanted the concerned officials to intervene regarding the hardships and discrimination they face in their workplaces.
Yarphel Overseas Recruitment Agent was established on November, 2014. The proprietor of the agent, Sonam Tobgay, said, “I fully accept that it was a great mistake on my part to have not sought approval from the Labour Ministry which was because I was given limited time by my counterpart agent in Dubai and I knew that it’ll take time to complete the mandated formalities by the Labour Ministry. And perhaps I am the first case where the license will be directly terminated without any considerations or warnings after the recent issues made it stricter.”
On the grievances shared by some girls he said he totally disagrees with what was written in the email.
“I made them listen to the voice message because it was sent to me by the girl from the earlier batch and I was happy to know that she was satisfied, so I just wanted to genuinely assure them that everything is safe. If at all there is a problem, they should have first consulted me and I would have acted through my representative in Dubai by negotiating with the company down there,” he said.
On having sent only girls, Sonam Tobgay justified that the company deemed it suitable for the girls to apply for such job since they do a better job comparing to boys.
Sonam Tobgay promised that he’ll work in accordance with what the Labour Ministry directs him to do and that he will take full responsibility to bring back the girls safely or even if they want to stay back, help them in finding new jobs there. “I fully accept my fault and I won’t abscond like others and will cooperate with the Labour Ministry to help the girls out.”
Meanwhile, the pending applicants of the agents who are ready to leave for overseas employment with every formalities completed will be allowed but those who’ve registered or are under processes will be stopped.
The government has made it clear that in all the cases so far the government will not only cancel licenses but it will also take strong legal action agaisnt the agents and agencies.