There is controversy over the Mini-Dry-Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing after the MDP was handed over to private firm for mechanization. Ex-loaders have lost their jobs for which they blame the firm while the firm has its own side of story.
After being taken over by the Dhendup Enterprise, the loaders had to leave but after few days they were called back for one month as the company’s loaders failed to take up the job, loaders shared, adding that again on 22 January 2021 they were asked to leave.
According to an official from Dhendup Enterprise, they are grateful that the ex-loaders came at the time of need; however, they did not take their jobs away but they entered into a tender floated by the government.
He said, “Before the pandemic foreign loaders used to do the same work a Nu 2,000 per truck but for the same, our loaders were charging up to Nu 25,000. Now we are doing it at Nu 1,890 for six wheeler trucks.”
The government felt their charges were too high which is why they floated the tender, but one of their terms states that the priority should be given to the ex-loaders which they were given on 16 December 2020, he said.
Though all of them agreed to come only 20 of them turned up and the next day they vanished, he said, adding that they wanted to stop the work by not cooperating.
He said, “Basically the loaders are resorting to blackmail. They stopped the work and the government has no option as there are no workers there. So government called them back stating until we can take over effectively they should work there. And all 110 loaders came back.”
They negotiated with the loaders and they were supposed to join on 10 January but they again said they do not want to work for which they had to postpone taking over the MDP when they were supposed to take over on 12 January, he said.
He said they have given them the opportunity twice as per the terms of the contract and the same was informed to the government. “We informed government that we do not want to work with them and thereafter we started recruiting other loaders. The ex-loaders were supposed to leave on 23 January as per an agreement with the government.”
The rate offered to them was Nu 1,000 per day with free logistic, he said. They themselves chose to leave and they were not terminated, he added.
Within two days they managed to get 60 workers with much difficulty.
He said, “People do not appreciate the fact that because of the intervention we have brought the price of loading and unloading to Nu 2,000 approximately from Nu 15,000. They do not realize how they will be impacted with the low cost.”
They have succeeded in bringing down the rate which was their mandate, however mechanizing might take some time, he added. They have a plan to do mechanization up to 60 percent through adaptation and innovation.
Minister of Economic Affairs Loknath Sharma said that if they can mechanize it would be good and convenient for loading and unloading for the long run as it can avoid a lot of things.
To avoid accidents, reduce the cost and reduce number of breakages, the government thought that mechanizing would be the best and therefore, the government directed the taskforce to see and call for bidders for mechanization, Lyonpo added.
However, the firm has to absorb all the ex-loaders.
Meanwhile, Sonam Wangchuk, a loader at MDP shared that he has worked there since the first lockdown with no fear though they know they might get exposed to the virus. He said, “It was hard on us for first few weeks but gradually we got used to it and we were proud to serve the nation as well as our family,” he added.
He said though they used to earn Nu 2,000 per day at the start but, with a complaint from people their charges now depend on type of materials and vehicles whereby their earning is less than before.
After working hard until now the plan of mechanization has left them jobless again, he said. They have requested to let them continue with the work until the end of pandemic as it can save the lives of many.
He said, “We told the current firm that we are ready to negotiate the wage, however, if we are to work with no condition with low wage than we get discouraged. And Nu 110 for overtime is less I suppose.”
Few loaders have gone back to work with the current firm. He said he would be grateful if government can look into this matter and sort things out.
Another loader Nima Gyeltshen said that they had to leave the place with various issues. “Everything was going fine until a plan of mechanization came in. We are left worried and for now we are left with nothing which is why they are going around looking for a job,” he said.
They are left ideal and they are worried if anyone among them will get into alcohol or drugs as most of them are youths. Everyone is under stress and for now they are staying in a hotel but they may not be able to survive for long without any jobs, he added.
He said, “We used to earn good and our families used to appreciate our work. We did not want to go back because we want to see an alternative.”
The loaders have come from all over the country. There were 110 loaders at MDP with most of them being youths who got laid off from their jobs due to the pandemic.
They claim that they are the one to start everything taking risks when country was in dire need, and it is not fair to let them stay out now.
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