Construction industry hoping to normalize everything with impending import of foreign laborers

Bhutanese laborers will still remain even after the import of foreign laborers

Contractors are hopeful of being allowed to import of foreign laborers in the coming months as the mass quarantine facilities are set up. According to Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB), the labor shortage in the construction industry has caused financial losses and challenges. Since the closure of the border on 23 March 2020, most of the construction works were kept on halt due to the lack foreign laborers.

Answering the question on the import of foreign laborers, during the 44th Meet-The-Press, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) Minister, Ugyen Dorji, said that once the construction of quarantine centers are completed, the foreign workers importation can start.

“We do not have enough or adequate Bhutanese workers in the construction sector, neither in numbers nor in expertise. So, we will need foreign workers. While the construction sector is being dominated by foreign laborers, it is not like we have no Bhutanese workers along the side, we have, and there will be even post pandemic,” Lyonpo added.

It is a fact that we have to rely on foreign workers for construction due to inadequate number of Bhutanese workers. Lyonpo said that it will take some time for Bhutanese workers to embrace the construction work as preferred jobs.

Lyonpo said, “It is good news for the contractors as they can resume their construction work once the importation of foreign laborers is allowed. However, actual relaxation and lifting of monitoring might take some time.”

There is also the fear job loss among the Bhutanese workers who are currently employed under various construction sectors. They need not fear of losing their jobs when the importation of foreign laborers starts, Lyonpo said, adding that they will continue to work.

Lyonpo added that once they bring in the foreign workers, they do not expect contractors to terminate Bhutanese workers from the work.

“There is law to protect them from getting terminated, and should anyone come across such cases in later times then feel free to come and report the issue to us. We will deal with it in accordance to the Labour Act. Everything has to be fair, for both contractors and workers,” Lyonpo added.

The importation of foreign laborers will depend upon the requirement by the contractors and the capacity of the quarantine centers.

Lyonchhen said, “We should train our own people so that they can replace foreign laborers. To make it possible, we have bring in changes to the TVET program in the country.”

It is must to have strong guidelines on importation of foreign laborers, a program to make own Bhutanese skilled and a platform for them to rely on, Lyonchhen added. 

Meanwhile, Executive Director of CAB, Tshering Yonten, said the contractors face difficulties in bringing in the foreign laborers due to lack of quarantine facilities, and therefore, they have approached the government with suggestions if they can rent buildings of their own as quarantine centers.

“We are happy that the government under the Royal Command will construct the quarantine centers. A huge burden has gone, and we thank the government. We had a situation, whereby, we had to make laborers stay in Jaigaon for more than 20 days, as we did not have empty quarantine facilities,” he added.

Bhutanese workers who are currently employed will still remain as supporting workers, he said, adding the foreign laborers will have to undergo 21 days quarantine, and thereby, the Bhutanese worker will supplement them.

Kado, Proprietor of KD Construction, said that it is indeed good news for them, whereby, again they can resume their work kept on halt due to labor shortages.

“Though we have Bhutanese workers, we do not get the adequate numbers, and even if we get it, it takes longer time which indirectly leads to double expenditure. We do not want to work permanently at one site. If the laborers get pay higher pay than what we pay, then they leave the site without informing us,” he added.

He had hired Bhutanese workers for his site, however, they fled the site right after getting their advance pay, and the case is with police for now. Things were difficult, he added.

Another proprietor of a medium construction company, Sonam, shared, “I have imported foreign laborers at my own expense, but unfortunately, I had to send a few of them back to India, as they tested positive for COVID-19. Since then I did not bring any laborer as it was more of a risk.”

Ever since the border was sealed, more than profits, the contactors and builders have suffered much loss, to the extent that some companies thought of shutting down as many have loans to pay back soon, he continued.

Delay in work submission and hiring Bhutanese laborers have caused much delay, Sonam said, adding that he would, however, continue to keep the Bhutanese laborers even after import of foreign laborers. 

Similarly, many contractors shared similar hopes of their business picking up once they can bring in the foreign laborers.

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