MoLHR gets 336 cases of Non-payment of wages to laborers last 18 months

In many cases sub-contractors are not passing on the money to workers

From January 2021 to June 2022, the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) has registered 428 cases related to labour issues in the country. Of the total registered cases, the non-payment of wages contributed the highest with 336 cases, followed by breach of contract of employment Internal Service Rule (SIR).

Likewise, MoLHR registered 17 cases of non-payment of post-employment benefits, 9 cases of absconding and theft, 7 cases of compensation, 5 cases of training bond and 2 cases of threatening or harassment at work site.

MoLHR was able to resolve 275 cases, forwarded 117 cases, and withdrawn 210 cases. In addition, going sector wise, the figures from the ministry show that a majority of the cases are being reported from construction sector, and the least from health, education and agriculture, with one case each.

The non-payment of wages ranging from month to years is one of the major issues. There has also been an issue of sub-contractors taking advantage of the situation, particularly in the construction sector.

The Labour Minister, Karma Dorji, said the ministry deals directly with the principal contractors and not with the sub-contractor to resolve the cases. Section 120 of the Labour Act states that employers shall pay the wage to the employee directly and not through another person.

“As an employer, they have to pay directly to the employees and not to the middlemen because there is no reason to do so. It is not a valid argument when one says they have paid to the middlemen when they can pay directly to the employees,” Lyonpo added.

He further said that the principal contractor sub-contracts the work to another person, which is actually illegal, as they do not hold a license to work as contractors. That way, the sub-contractors are part of their employee, and this is the reason why the principal contractors are held liable on this matter.

However, “We do not penalize everyone because some cases are genuine, whereby the contractors did not pay the workers on strong grounds while there are some who did not pay their workers for years. We issue a notification to the employers to pay the wage within 7 days, and failing to do so, upon repeated reminder, the case will then be forwarded to the court,” he added.

Meanwhile, an officer from the Labour Protection Division, MoLHR, Deki Tshomo, it is a challenging issue because some cases are criminal in nature, some employers do not turn up after repeated notice, and sometimes they send representatives who cannot take a decision at all.

She said, “Some lodge a complaint with no proper documentation and agreement. Not having these, it complicate things further, whereby we have to sometime involve their family members to get hold of the employers. And they are used to doing it.”

Sub-contract is a major problem, and it is on the rise, which the ministry cannot curb, as it is not a mandate of MoLHR. In some case, there are three sub-contractors, whereby they keep their portion of shares, and in the end, the workers on the ground do not get paid.

She said, “We are sometimes overburdened by the cases, and it is just the two of us who are looking into the cases. If respective agencies know their mandates, and take up the cases directly, it would be of great help to us. Sometimes, they come with a complaint of being harassed and those cases are forward directly to the police.”

It is not right to take up the cases that are supposed to be taken care by the court and the police, she added.

Section 257 of the Penal Code of Bhutan (PCB) 2004 states that a defendant shall be guilty of theft of services, if the defendant intentionally does not pay for a service rendered to the defendant or another person for whom the defendant is illegally responsible upon receipt of a bill for the service.

Likewise, section 261 of the Act states that the offence of theft of services shall be a value-based sentencing. 

It is difficult to educate the principal contractors on this matter because they think it is not their responsibility, as they have made their payment to the sub-contractors. Nevertheless, the ministry is aggressively advocating on this.

She further said that this could be a contributing factor as to why the youth are not taking up the jobs in the construction sector.

Therefore, “If these things are taken care of, there will be high level of understanding, case load will be reduced, and our youths might stick to one job and help them groom with skills. They are capable and all they need is a platform,” she added.

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