Labour ministry withdraws foreign teachers from closed occupations list

The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) had earlier issued a notification that categorized six occupations under Closed Occupations for expatriate workers- whereby no work permits shall be issued or renewed with effect from November this year. The six identified occupations listed are carpenter, architect, primary or secondary education teacher, civil and electrical engineer, construction supervisor, and ECCD manager or staff.

Concerned and alarmed by the notification, many school authorities got in touch with the relevant officials to question the move. As dubious as it sounds, the officials cited a negligent typographical error and oversight in the notification issued to the mainstream media. The labour ministry has verbally stated that it will not be categorizing primary or secondary education teacher under the Closed Occupations.

The ministry received orders to carry out a proper research into this matter. The remaining five identified occupations that were initially issued in the notification as Closed Occupations are now under a proper review, after which the final updated occupations categorized as Closed Occupations will be issued.

The Director of the Department of Labour, Sonam Wangdi, said that the decision to regulate foreign workers is in line with clauses 11and 12 of the Regulation on Recruitment and Management of Foreign Workers, 2012. The clauses state that foreign workers shall not be allowed in closed occupation, the list of which shall be revised by MoLHR from time to time, and foreign workers shall not be permitted to take up work in occupations against which Bhutanese are available.

“We’ve decided to regulate the foreign workers in some of the areas as the ministry has been given the mandate to regulate the foreign workers for various sector from time to time based on the labour market situation of the country. And we found that Bhutanese youths have the skills and competency needed to replace the expatriates in the identified occupations,” said the Director of Department of Labour.

“We have to provide employment opportunities for our youths, and considering the fact that unemployment rate has increased from 2.1 percent in 2016 to 2.4 percent in 2018, we expect our youths to be employed in their area of expertise with the implementation of this policy from time to time,” added Sonam Wangdi.

Given the fact that the expatriate workers hired by the Bhutanese employers are specialists or experts in their respective fields, some of the employers raised questions on the impact of such a decision on the work outcome. To which the Director of the Department of Labour said that the people should change such a mentality. He said the Bhutanese youth workforce should be trusted.

“We should look at our education sector, as an example. Earlier, almost 95 percent of teachers in the country were foreigners, but now Bhutanese have taken over the occupation. Similarly, if we do not trust our youths and make room for them, the unemployment rate is bound to increase drastically.”

The Director clarified that after the review and finalization of the jobs that would be categorized as Closed Occupations, should any situation arise, whereby, the foreign workers are in the mid of completing their tenure or require permit renewal to complete certain projects, he said the ministry will look into the matter for any necessary exception.

The ministry is yet to issue a corrigendum to the public, which will supersede the prior notification, and the mention of primary or secondary education teachers under Closed Occupations will be withdrawn. Currently, there are 28 jobs that have already been listed by the ministry as closed occupation for the foreign workers. Bhutan today has about 53,000 expatriates working in the country in various sectors

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