With the border sealed due to COVID-19 pandemic, works on construction sites in the country have stopped due lack of foreign laborers.
Though the government approved import of foreign laborers with certain criteria, contractors are quite reluctant to bring in the laborers, as it would mean bearing the cost of quarantine facilities and testing kits for them.
Works and Human Settlement (MoWHS) Minister, Dorji Tshering, said due to the quarantine facilities, zero community transmission and health capacity in the country, a certain number of foreign laborers can be imported.
However, Lyonpo said, “The import of the laborers has become almost impossible as the employers have to pay Nu 28,000 minimum per labor excluding medical expenses. And they have to repeat the process each time the laborers will go for vacation. So it would be a huge cost for them.” Lyonpo added that the import of laborers is almost impossible, not because they do not want to hire them but it is because of the system and pandemic situation. Nevertheless, there may be contractors who wish to bring in the foreign laborers and the ministry is ready to support them.
During the peak of economic activities in the construction sector, there was a requirement of around 50,000 laborers, but before COVID-19 situation, there was no supply of 50,000 youth. However, in today’s scenario, Lyonpo said that the requirement and supply of laborers is almost the same. Lyonpo said, “There are many groups of youths but the issue here is our concern on how our youths will be able to do it on ground. There will be hiccups for sure, like mismatch of skills, mentality, payment issue, dignity of labor and failing to fulfill the supply. But we will come together and make it better.”
The ministry has asked contractors to keep doing the work by absorbing Bhutanese laborers. The ministry will continue to award works and support the contractors in building its own workforce.
Due to COVID-19 and with no laborers at site, the ministry has been giving time extension to the contractors depending upon their site condition, Lyonpo said, adding that the procuring agencies will continue to study the issue at the sites. The extension is not made uniform as time extension differs with working conditions.
However, “Now that the contractors will procure Bhutanese (laborers) henceforth, giving them the time extension would be studied thoroughly if they request for it. Also there will be no significant rise in the labor price as there will be no indirect cost while hiring Bhutanese laborers unlike hiring foreign laborers.”