The Labor and Employment Act 2007 still remains a paper-tiger although 18 regulations are in place and regular inspections have been conducted.
Even after many rounds of awareness programs to sensitize stakeholders, employers and employees are still not adequately aware of the most important provisions in the Act.
Recently, labor minister Dorji Wangdi officially inspected the service sectors for compliance of regulations and to heighten awareness about the importance of the provisions of the Labor and Employment Act, 2007.
He said “as a policy maker we need to know the ground realities to re-strengthen the implementation plans and improve the provisions if needed”.
The labor minister and a team of labor officials visited three randomly selected hotels for inspection and on 23 June they visited Punatsangchu Hydropower Project Authority (PHPA) I and II. The three hotels were Lotus Pond, Dragon Roots and Jomolhari.
The inspection team concluded that the Act and Regulations were relevant and adequate but there was room for improvement to enhance awareness of the act and regulations among the employers and employees.
Out of many responsibilities, providing jobs for the youth is a major task and a challenging one. “After providing them with employment, looking after their working conditions and working environment is another main responsibility of the ministry,” said Lyonpo Dorji Wangdi.
He said inspections would benefit both employers and employees and such provisions have kept account of rights and obligations of both the parties.
“This kind of inspection would not solely uphold the rights of employees or incur loss to employers through penalties,” he said.
“The main philosophy of the labor policy is to provide harmonious and productive working relationship between employee and employers.”
In 2008 the labor ministry advocated the Labor and Employment Act 2007 and inspected sectors on aspects of Operation Health and safety. And in 2010 the provisions in accordance with the Act imposed penalty to those found in violation of the Act.
The Inspection team during the recent hotel inspections observed that working conditions and occupational health safety in the three hotels were good.
The Hotels followed internal service rules (ISR) and maintained wage records, attendance registers, benefit schemes, provided free lodge, meals and other benefits.
Nevertheless, the team recommended improvement for the respective hotels since certain provisions of ISR were not implemented vis a vis weekly-rest period, minimum of nine public holidays, leave of absence, records of service charges paid, reinstitution contract of employment, proper shift roster, overtime payments and wages were not maintained properly.
It was noted that hazards such as slippery kitchens apart from use of local made steam boilers and the absence of emergency evacuation, signs for exit doors, improper location of fire extinguishers, exposed switch boards, non-availability of first-aid box and other problems were not properly addressed.
On the other hand, hotel owners said it was difficult to fulfill all regulations. One of the common problems faced by the employees was the public holidays.
“The hotel runs during public holidays and if we send the employees away, we’d be out of business,” they said.
Employers said job-hopping, was one of the reasons for not maintaining a proper register. They said most employees do not stay with them after they underwent some hotel management training.
Sangay Dorji, Proprietor of Hotel Dragon Roots raised said there was a lack of blue-collared employees.
“The hotel industry has no competent people to operate many equipments and services of the hotel, which is because of the labor policy to employ only one non-Bhutanese. We don’t get dry sweepers and qualified chefs and we want to request the ministry to help us with this particular problem,” he said.
He also requested to look into the matter of Kolkata-based OTIS – a company who supplies most of the lifts in Bhutan. He said the company has asserted a clause that a company has to come for maintenance work for four times a year, where a minimum amount of Nu 70,000 is charged.
Labor Secretary Pema Wangdi said hoteliers should meet and come-up with solutions. And if there are disputes, the Chief Labor Administration would look into it.
He advised the employers to refer the Operation Health and Safety Regulations to meet the standards and consulted to comply with all the provisions.
Although the inspection by Labor minister was a sensitization exercise, Labor officials said after 30 days of inspection, they revisit the sites and check whether they have complied with the provisions or not.
Penalties are imposed if they have failed and the particular employers could also be dragged to court if they fail to pay the penalty.
The labor minister said if the inspection programs fit into the program he would inspect the service sectors himself.