The construction of a four-lane road starting from Bhutan Telecom junction till Jungshina Bridge (3.1 KM) has 100 percent Bhutanese workers who are doing well

400 Bhutanese road construction workers from 20 Dzongkhags in Thimphu surprise contractors and themselves

It is an all Bhutanese workforce

The project for the construction of a four-lane road starting from Bhutan Telecom junction till Jungshina Bridge (3.1 KM) has a 100 percent Bhutanese workforce, ranging from the young up to people of 50 to 60 years of age and they have female workers as well.

There are more than 400 Bhutanese workers working at the site and it comprises of workers from all the 20 dzongkhags. Most of these workers are the ones who got affected by COVID-19, with many being from the tourism sector.

The project is executed by Thimphu Thromde along with private contractors and the project includes earthwork, construction of walls, footpath, cabling and permanent road work.

An engineer from Thimphu Thromde, Ngawang Tashi said that they have divided and assigned the work to 16 private contractors in order to help them with the sustainability and so that they can absorb more Bhutanese workers.

The motive of the project was also to create job opportunities for Bhutanese people who got affected by the pandemic and it is also to help the economy. Apart from 16 private contractors, the department is also executing the work.

It was learnt that in terms of stone masonry, Bhutanese are far better than foreign laborers but due to their higher rate, the contractors prefer foreign laborers over Bhutanese. However, due to the pandemic, the contractors had to employee Bhutanese with few skilled workers in each group and they have not come across any issues so far.   

 “A few made mistakes with the construction of the walls whereby it does not match with the level designed by Thromde and in order to rectify, they were asked to stop the construction for a while. Not all the work will be stopped,” he added.

He said that it is challenging to work at such a site due to continuous flow of traffic and so work which is supposed to finish in 5 hours takes 8 plus hours.

He said, “We do not want to prolong the construction as the road is a VIP road and as the traffic is very heavy in the area. Moreover, prolonging of work will cause inconveniences to the people and commuters. So, we targeted to finish it in one year at one go rather than doing it in phase wise assigning to just a few contractors.”

The duration of the project is one year and is expected to complete by end of May 2021. They have started the work in May 2020 and in six months time they have completed 40 to 50 percent of the physical work and the work progress is going as planned.

However, for the whole August month, they had to stop their work due to the nationwide lockdown. The 16 contractors are constructing walls and laying hume pipes along the roadside.

The approved budget of the project is Nu 150 mn and the Government of India (GOI) is funding the project through the Small Development Project (SDP) grant.

Meanwhile, the workers at site have shared that they are happy with what they are doing. One of them said, “At first it was tough because we were new to it, however, with time we got adapted to it and found no difficulty in doing such a manual job anymore.”

They said that they had to take up the job as they had to do something to sustain and when they are handsomely paid and encouraged, there is nothing they will not want to do. Some have shared that they will want to continue working in this field while a few said they will want to move on.

Though they have a temporary shelter at a work site, they prefer not to stay there due to the harsh weather in winter as the tent is made up of just one thick plastic sheet.   

24-year-old Urmila said that she came to Thimphu from Samtse to look for a job but due to her limited education background she did not get enrolled anywhere and eventually she ended up at a construction site. She used to run a school canteen in Samtse before the pandemic.

“I had a tough time for first few days but my body is getting used to it and I am doing better now. I am not ashamed of what I am doing because I am making good money. I would rather work and earn rather than be idle thinking what other people have to say,” she added.

She said that she will continue to work if her health allows and until the time when she can get to continue her school canteen in Samtse.

A 48-year-old tourist driver said that he is okay with what he is doing at the moment and if they are encouraged at this point of time, he feels that no one will want to back off. “I come from Khasadrapchu every morning and it is tough for me but I feel that something is better than nothing. I am the sole bread earner in the family and so I don’t mind taking up any job,” he said.

A contractor said that given the opportunity, Bhutanese workers can do the best with no complaints. What they need is encouragement, dignity and a good wage, he said, adding that the work progress with Bhutanese workers is over whelming.

“I never thought our own Bhutanese will have this much capacity and a will to do anything. We should encourage them,” he added.

Workers are paid 700-800 per day for helpers while skilled workers are paid Nu 1000 per day.

His Majesty The King in a Royal Address on 12th September called upon Bhutan’s youth population to help replace a major shortage of workforce as foreign workers leave the country, and to also take part in a grand water based national project.

His Majesty said what the youth of Bhutan achieves over a year or two during the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain as a mark of triumph– an invaluable asset and a lasting legacy for future generations.  

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