The construction sector is one of the main sectors which is hugely impacted by the pandemic in the country. Increase in cost of materials, hike in transportation charges and man power shortages has contributed to difficulty for the contractors.
It was learnt that the contractors are finding it difficult to complete their work as per the contract period and some of the private contractors were penalized (10 percent of the project cost) by the government procurement agencies for delay in work completion.
Executive Director of Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB) Tshering Yonten said, “The impact is huge on them and since March last year they did not have a chance to work like before with multiple factors. The second lockdown has even worsened their situation.”
He said that due to inter-district movement restrictions contractors are not able to procure machineries at work site and the rules of mandatory quarantine has become challenging for them.
Given all the factors, they have asked for time extension which the government has approved.
CAB on behalf of contractors around the country thanked the government for the time extension, he added.
No matter how bad the situation is for the contractors, they have not laid off any of their staff, he said, and they are paid on time. “We do not see more risks in allowing the construction work during lockdowns and building construction in particular. The workers will be in one compound working. This way we may be able to at least complete our work on time,” he added.
They have a milestone contract whereby they have to fulfill the set target in certain duration and failing to do so will lead to termination of work and few of the contractors have reached to that state.
He said that they have approached labor ministry asking for workers through BBP and so far only few contractors got workers while to the rest they failed to give claiming that the applicants do not want to work at the construction site.
CAB shared that though few contractors have imported foreign laborers the number is very few (10 to 15 laborers) because the cost involved in bringing laborers are quite high.
Minister of Work and Human Settlement Dorji Tshering said that they need materials, manpower and budget for construction work and at this point of time the whole country is in need of manpower and materials.
He said, “Though the pandemic has impacted the sector at a larger scale we are working our best to sort the things out. Not only private contractors but the major government owned project like construction of Samrang-Jomotshangkha highway are also affected equally. Had it not been the pandemic, the highway would have been completed by December. We are still carrying out the work.”
To keep going they are looking for many alternatives and one being engagement of youths and those affected by the pandemic.
Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that both foreign and Bhutanese workers are equally important at this juncture, however, they do not provide as demanded by the contractors and this is not because they are against the contractors but they are limiting the numbers due to COVID-19 protocol.
“Around 30 percent foreign laborers are required in construction which we are facilitating. In terms of Bhutanese laborers, though we have enough registered workers through BBP, we are not able to facilitate as the contractors do not want to employee unskilled workers without the skilled workers. And maximum registered candidates in BBP are unskilled,” Lyonpo added.
The ministry does not deny the supply of workers to the contractors, he said, adding that there is no reason to not help them; it is just that they do not have sufficient skilled workers which are high in demand.
“We will try our best to facilitate the workers,” Lyonpo added.
Meanwhile, as per the data from the government, the government imported 1,636 foreign laborers as of 28 January 2021 since 1 October 2020.
They have not stopped the import of laborers during lockdown and it was learnt that they have faced various challenges while bringing in the laborers; however, those were all minor issues.
Some of the laborers had to be sent back due to personal reasons and some on medical grounds.
Few contractors shared that they need the help and support from the government at this point of time. They are getting discouraged with the fact that the construction sector is not being considered nor are they given with any other alternatives like the ones given to hoteliers and guides.
“At some point of time we felt like surrendering the work because we are under a lot of pressure from the procuring agencies. Some understand while some even do not want to accept the letter requesting for time extension. It was hard on us,” they shared.
However, now that government has approved time extension they feel a bit relieved. Nevertheless, they said that their pressure will go on until the day they can hand over their work and if needed, they might surrender their work due to various issues.
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