Growing labour shortage in Bhutan’s private sector as locals turn up their noses to jobs on offer

The private sector, government and opposition all have their say

In July 2017 the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources said that there are available 6,373 job vacancies most of them in the private sector which have not been taken up by locals.

The bulk of these vacancies are in the private sector from the service to the manufacturing industry and in between.

Private Sector’s take

Bhutan’s private sector and business community say that if something is not done to resolve the issue then it can affect the future growth of the private sector.

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) President Aum Phub Zam said, “Yes, the private sector across the board is facing labour shortages and it will continue to as new businesses start, businesses expand etc.”

She said that every business house should try and employ available local Bhutanese but if they are not willing or available then they should be allowed to import foreign labour.

“If we can’t get labour then it will affect the growth of the private sector and we cannot reach our targets,” she added.

The BCCI President pointed out that a big problem is that Bhutanese youth prefer government jobs or if they can’t get that they prefer to go out and they don’t want to join the private sector.

As per the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan there are 5,371 unemployed youth.

She said that a solution could be to relax the rule whereby a foreign worker after three years has to leave Bhutan for six months and then only can he or she apply for a work permit.

The Association of Bhutanese Industries General Secretary Jochu Thinley said that the apart from the reluctance of Bhutanese youth to take up local private sector jobs another issue is also a skill gap. He said that Bhutanese factories pay Nu 15,000 to Nu 17,000 per month to Indian laborers for breaking boulders etc. but Bhutanese youth would not take up such jobs.

Government’s take

The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay during the meet-the-press said that there are various option and the importing foreign labour should be the last option.

The Minister for Economic Affairs Lyonpo Lekey Dorji said that even when business owners came to meet him they talked of the labour shortage and asked the government’s help on the issue.

The minister said that the labour shortage is due to the fact that a lot had already been absorbed by the economy.

He said that in the last five years 32,981 new business licenses were issued, 12,727 Bhutanese are working in the hydropower sector and 4,879 have been involved in FDIs.

He said that in 2013 around 57,000 people were working in the Cottage and Small Industries like hotels, restaurants, shops etc. but now that figure had become 90,000.

He said that upcoming Industrial estates would absorb around 21,000 people in various vacancies.

The Agriculture minister Lyonpo Yeshey Dorji highlighted the hundreds of unfulfilled vacancies in the SOE’s, established by the Agriculture Ministry, Farm shops, FCBL where graduates get entry level play of 15,000 per month, diploma holders get Nu 14,000 per month, class 12 pass get 12,000 and class 10 pass get 9,500.

He said that there are opportunities in commercial agriculture with the ministry’s support and government land. He talked of the User Right Certificate of the National Land Commission in that regard and who 70 out of school youth were already working using the certificate.

Lyonchhen pointed out that even for the many youth working in the private sector the government through its various employment schemes had either placed them there or was subsidizing their pay.

He said that the popular notion is that Bhutanese don’t like to do blue collar work or work with their hand but on the other hand companies like CDCL, NHDCL and DGPC had turned that concept around.

Lyonchhen talked of all all Bhutanese construction teams of the CDCL had constructed various bridges and also how NHDCL had hired 200 Bhutanese to look after its properties. He also said that Bhutan Hydropower Services in Jigmeling had an all Bhutanese team working with their hands and doing good work.

The PM said that he has in fact proposed to CDCL to privatize its bridge building business so that the shares are given to the Bhutanese youth working there with the condition they they would have to sell their shares to others if they left the company.

Lyonchhen also talked of certain private companies where Bhutanese are very happy due to better working conditions and pay.

Opposition’s take

During the Opposition Party’s press conference, the Opposition Leader Dr Pema Gyamtsho was asked abut the paradox of youth unemployment on one hand and the issue of growing shortage of labour for the private sector on another hand.

The Opposition Leader said that there is no single solution and it requires a complex solution.

He said that the education system itself is producing mainly bricks when there are also marble blocks and others required. He said there is a need to look at the curriculum.

The OL said that there are also associated issues like dignity and status issues and youth not willing to take up blue collar jobs. The OL said that there should be a conducive environment like better working conditions and raised wages.

He said that if plumbers and electricians can earn as much as civil servants then the problem would be resolved. The OL said that the former government had banned the import of foreign furniture and if this was upheld it would have strengthened the local furniture industry. He talked of the potential of growth of the services sector and especially in Tourism. He said that he saw that regional tourism had a lot of potential while the impact needed to be managed.

He talked of job creation to the Mountain Hazelnut venture.

DPT MP from Nubi-Tangsibji, Nidup Zangpo said that the labour ministry’s figure that there are 6,373 job vacancies do not hold water. He said that he does believe the figures of the Labour Ministry which is also charged with creating employment.

The MP, however, did not provide any evidence or figures to dispute the Labour Ministry’s figures especially since his own party was relying on employment figures of the same ministry in 2008-2013.

The OL said that quite a few jobs have been created due to the investments made by the former government in farm roads, telecom, rural electrification etc.

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