Foreign laborers can be replaced if Bhutanese are paid well and dignity of labor is maintained

There is a realization among people that Bhutanese workers can replace foreign laborers if they are paid well, if they are appreciated and if the government can provide them with the training to make them into skilled workers. If such care is taken then the unemployment issues could also be solved ultimately.

Contractors across the country are looking for skilled laborers, especially with the restriction placed on foreign skilled laborers due to the pandemic. As of now, 491 Bhutanese laborers are working at various construction sites.

General Secretary of Construction Association Board (CAB), Tshering Yonten, said that after COVID-19, CAB has employed 103 male youth workers at five different construction sites. They are taxi drivers and those who have worked in tourism sector and restaurants. No women took the job so far.

He said, “Though we have people registered, we sometime fail to employ because candidates do not want to go to other dzongkhags to work. Therefore, we try to make it flexible, whereby we try to employ persons in the place where they actually have registered. If we have candidates from the east, we try to employ them at construction sites in the east so as to cut costs.”

Nevertheless, he said that once they are into the construction work, they do it and they continue with it as they can earn well. A group of workers who have completed their work in RTC are now in Chukha working on a different project, he said.

However, he said that if they want to recruit Bhutanese laborers, the pay package should be good as it is only then they are willing to work without any hesitation and complaints.

“Not only that, but we should know how to give them the due respect. That way we encourage the people to come forward,” he added.

If that can be done, he said that there should be a good numbers of Bhutanese workers, which would in turn address the issue of unemployment rate, and the import of foreign laborers can be minimized even after the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said, “Engineers are willing to take up labor work if they are paid well. In recent times, a contractor at Deothang has hired 30 youths who are all engineers. They said they going there as laborers and not as an engineers. So what matter is paying them well.”

Replacing foreign laborers with Bhutanese laborers can be possible, he said, adding that if the government can look into the labor component in Bhutan Schedule of Rates (BSR). Contractors will be able to pay laborers high if they quote a good price while bidding and that would encourage Bhutanese laborers, he added.

Meanwhile, Thimphu Thrompon Kinlay Dorjee said that the Thromde could not employ any youth at the constructions sites. A proposal was submitted to the government but it was given to the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR).

However, he said, “We are doing what we can. We have employed around 140 youths in gardening work and parks in Thimphu. Most of them are guides and people working in Drayangs.” In addition, the Thromde has engaged more than 30 youth in cleaning the drains at Olokha and Lungtenphu areas. They are paid on a salary system.

“At first they tend to get frustrated because they are into this line for the first time and they got no experience in labor work. They become reluctant, but with time, they adjust. So far they had no complaints or issues from any of the employed youths. They are doing well,” he said.

Salary package is the main reason why the Bhutanese youth are not coming forward to take up jobs at construction sites and other areas. Why the Bhutanese go to other countries to work, it is because they can make good money, not caring what kind of work they are assigned with, he said.

Likewise, he said, “If Bhutanese are paid well then I don’t think they will not want. Rather, I feel there will be many who would be interested. When that happens, we won’t feel the need of bringing in foreign laborers. We can bring in few skilled laborers while the helpers can be our own Bhutanese.”

It is important to train the youth and make them skilled in different areas. After doing so, if they are paid well as per their grades, then they would do well. He said that COVID-19 is an opportunity where the government can take the chance and make this possible.

He said that it is okay to bear a bit of additional cost by the government if that can help Bhutanese people with the employment at construction sites.

People need a platform, he said, adding that if given the chance and support, they would definitely take up the opportunity, not minding what kind of job they are assigned with.

The government is taking a lot of initiatives to employ the youth, with emphasis on farming business.

“It is time to start what the government has planned to address unemployment youths through MoLHR,” the Thrompon added.

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