One major misgiving of the government’s oversea employment program that sent Bhutanese youth to work abroad was on the danger of them getting mistreated.
This prophecy seems to have come true at least in one case when a Qatar returned graduate Kencho Tshering, shared his and his friends harrowing experience on the National Broadcaster in a recent current affairs program.
Kencho was sent to Qatar under this scheme through a private labor agent in late 2014 but he came back this year after filing a complaint with a government agency in Qatar about his living and working conditions there. Speaking on the program Kencho said that while he signed one contract here he was made to sign another one in Kuwait and ended up getting lesser money then he was promised.
While he was sent as a cashier he was soon shifted to the kitchen to wash dishes and according to him was often verbally abused and strongly intimidated at times. At one part of the program he even referred to being ‘treated like a slave’.
In the program he also highlighted his poor and cramped living conditions where several people were forced to live in a small, hot and cramped room. He also complained of being given stale food. Talking about a Bhutanese friend’s case he said that though being severely sick his friend was not taken to the hospital until he became bedridden.
Kencho said that his company did not follow labour laws and human rights in the treatment of its employees.
Disturbingly Kencho said that he was lucky to be in the capital of Doha where he was able to lodge a complaint and come back but there were many Bhutanese who were sent in areas far from the capital and even had their passports taken away from them on arrival. He claimed that as a result many of them even if they wanted to would not have the same access to authorities that he had. He said one additional problem is that different areas of Qatar needs different passes to travel and such employees would lack the necessary documents to travel to the capital.
In response to a question at the meet the press on what are the checks and balances by the Labour Ministry to prevent such cases the Minister for Labour and Human Resources Lyonpo Ngeema Sangay Tshempo claimed to have done an ‘investigation’ on the case.
“We did a thorough investigation and there is no question of ill treatment at the host country but he was instead not able to work,” said the minister.
“When people go aboard of their own will they should be willing to work hard so that they can compete with people from other countries and if they cannot there is not much we can do. Through our assessment it is an issue of work ethics and he did want to stay back and nobody can be forced to stay back,” said the minister.
Lyonpo said that the hosts and the agents paid for the hotel, transit and commissions to Qatar. “It is not a question of violation of human rights or contractual agreements, he was not willing to stay so he came back,” said Lyonpo.
The minister said that whenever somebody leaves Bhutan on the overseas employment scheme that person has to sign an agreement with all terms and conditions and they are also briefed about the salary, working place and working hours. He also said that this is done along with the recruitment agencies and in fact one criterion is that the person has to be around 21 years so that he is matured enough.
The Prime Minister Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay said, “This is why the government has insisted on registering all labour agents here. We will not tolerate labour agents willing to breach contractual agreements.”
The PM said that the case also showed that working conditions in Bhutan are far superior then to those working outside though it does not remove the government away from any accountability.
Lyonchhen said that jobs must eventually be created within the country but until the Bhutanese economy grows enough to offer good work it is good for people to get skills, knowledge, save money and then come back.
The PM said that the Labour Minister went to Australia and met the Australian Minister for Trade and Investment and even Bhutan’s Ambassador to Thailand who was also the ambassador to Australia also went there.
“We are seeing what can be done and we will do our best but ultimately our youth must be willing to work,” said the PM.
Highlighting the reluctance to work, the PM pointed out that even though the government was topping up salaries in the guarantee job scheme there were still many gradates who did not want to opt for such schemes.
The PM said that the government was in the process of looking at investment proposals and in addition the government would encourage high tech industries into Bhutan where Bhutanese youth could find work. He gave the example of the Bhutan Hydropower Services in Jigmeling where high tech work like repairing hydropower runners was being done. Of the 76 workers here around 74 are Bhutanese.
Lyonchhen said that the government’s aim is that Bhutanese youth in the future get high skills and advanced knowledge jobs within the country.