Around 76 Bhutanese who have been directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic are currently working at construction sites in Olakha.
Coordinator of the group of workers, Karma Tshering, said he was earlier working as a tour guide for Norbu Bhutan Travels.
“There are about 34 tour guides, and 42 people coming in for the work from Drayangs and hotels as well,” he said.
A 31-year-old freelance guide, Tenzin Dendup, stated that although the current manual work is not physically challenging, however, the transition has been taxing.
“Of course, tour guiding is not so easy-a-task in its own entirety as well. But this kind of work requires more physical effort for us to be habituated to.”
He added, “However, given the task, I think we are quite up to it, in terms of grasping the feel of the work, as most of us are literate folks and coming in from similar lines of business. We seem to be coping-up well with each other as far as the work environment is concerned.”
Another freelance guide working on the site, Nim Dorji, 27, anticipates that when the COVID-19 pandemic is contained, and if businesses would be able to operate as usual, most of them would be inclined to go back to their normal jobs since they are trained enough and are more compatible with what they were previously doing.
He said that any job that pays the proper wage rate with long-term benefits would appeal to the workers.
Another freelance guide, Tandin Wangchuk, 24, said, “On reading about the government’s recent initiative to top-up the wages and other things for the construction sector, I, personally, felt that it was a great move. Some of us are now beginning to understand, practically, as to how much our nation relied on the imported workforce until date.” He added it is was the least that they could do for the economy.
All three of them said the real question for them was not really about the practicality of the work they are now doing, but if their work could be dedicated to serve the nation as well as be reasonably sustainable, in terms of earning a livelihood.
Some people at the construction sites said that the current work is actually better than their normal work.
Karma Zangmo, 42, who works at the Wangyel Drayang in Thimphu said that her regular job is not always easy, and that her payment depends on the number of song requests made to her by the customers.
“Even for the requests, half oof the request amount is paid towards the owner, and we get the rest,” she said, and further adding, “Sometimes, we do not have much request in a month. Those times even when there was no COVID-19 situation like now, it used to be hard for us to manage enough money to be paying rents or meeting the daily needs.”
“However, this work along with the Druk Gyalpo’s Kidu amount has at least given us some sort of relief, and hopefully I will be able to serve my nation, even if it is just a small bit,” she added.
She said that as long as the payment is intact and enough for them to have a sustainable livelihood, it would not really affect her job preference. She believes most of her friends that work in Drayangs would hold the same perception.
Pema Yangki, 21, an employee of Hotel Osel stated that although she is enjoying working with a lot of people, however, fieldwork is burdensome as it requires physical toil. She said that it would take much time for her to adjust to the manual work. She hopes that the COVID-19 situation becomes lighter, and hotels and tourism companies can resume business and then she hopes to pursue her normal hotel work.
Other Bhutanese who are working at the construction sites stated if initiatives could be taken to improve work-life in the construction sector more Bhutanese would actually turn-up in place of the current majority of workforce from India.
Among the workers is a 12th grader, Tenzin Rabgay, who has been working in a construction site for about a month now. He said it is better to be doing something than staying idle at home during the school closure. He had started working to primarily earn some pocket money and likes the experience of actually being able to do something productive.
He said that he plans on working in the construction site until the school reopens.
Another person resorted to working at the construction site to earn money to pay for his restaurant space rent and to meet his daily expenses. He said that he and his wife have decided to keep the restaurant going, and until the COVID-19 pandemic is contained, he will have to work at the site to make ends meet for his family.