The Prime Minister Lyonchhen (Dr) Lotay Tshering initially promised a ‘Wow factor’ through the Performance Based Incentive (PBI) but when it was announced that it would be dropped, people said that there would be no ‘wow factor.’
However, the cabinet, in its final pay revision presented on 5th June delivered an even bigger ‘wow factor’ by making teachers, doctors, nurses and medical staff the highest paid civil servants in Bhutan.
With this huge strategic move, the cabinet has ensured that not only are the professionals paid higher but it has also overturned the unofficial civil service ‘hierarchy’ where administration officials enjoyed trainings, trips and other perks. This is compared to overworked teachers in the same grades who teach the future of Bhutan but may not even have a proper chair to sit on or doctors who are on duty saving lives, night and day.
The new pay structure means that a grade P 5 proficient teacher (serving for under 10 years) and P 5 doctor getting 29,935 will be earning slightly more than a P 3 civil servant getting Nu 28,315.
Similarly, a P 2 grade teacher (under 10 years) or P 2 doctor getting Nu 46,835 is earning slightly more than an Ex-3 grade Director getting 44,120 in the civil service.
A P 1 grade teacher (under 10 years) or P 1 doctor getting Nu 53,026 would make a little more than an EX-2 grade Director General or Dzongda getting 52,195.
An Es-2 doctor with Nu 75,682 would make more than a government secretary getting Nu 73,845 basic pay while an Es-1 doctor with Nu 90,219 would be paid higher than the Cabinet Secretary at Nu 82,685 making it the highest paid civil servant position in Bhutan.
The above was done by giving teachers a 35 percent professional allowance for zero to 10 years served, 45 percent allowance for above 10 to 20 years and 55 percent for above 20 years.
In addition to this there is a Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers that gives 10 percent for a proficient teacher, 15 percent for an accomplished teacher and 20 percent for a distinguished teacher.
For medical professionals, MBBS doctors get a 45 percent professional allowance while specialists get between 55 to 60 percent. Nurses and clinical staff start at 35 percent for 10 years and go to 45 percent for above 10 to 20 years and then hit 55 percent for above 20 years.
Given the above scenario the pay gap of teachers who serve many years and do well and doctors who become specialists is even higher.
So if a teacher reaches P 1 and has served for more than 20 years and is rated as distinguished then he or she stands to get a 55 percent professional allowance and a 20 percent distinguished teacher allowance coming to a combined Nu 75 percent allowance.
This P 1 teacher would get Nu 63,997 which would be higher than an Ex-1 official getting Nu 62,220.
A medical specialist doctor at Es 1 category getting 60 percent professional allowance stands to get Nu 99,552 compared to the Cabinet Secretary who gets Nu 82,685.
While doctors are well represented in the Es-1, Es-2 and Es-3 categories the teachers are mostly in the P-5 to P-1 category.
While there are 153 civil servants in the Ex/Es 1-3 category as per the RCSC in its 2018 civil service statistics, the teachers who make up the largest chunk of the civil service do not have enough representation in this group showing the problem of an upward career mobility. There are only 6 teachers in the ES-3 category.
The numbers of teachers involved in the hike are huge as there are 8,679 teachers, followed by the medical staff who number around 4,000.
The government itself seems to have been very clear to make teachers the highest paid category of civil servants.
In a press release the Prime Minister said, “If the pay revision comes through as proposed by the government, teaching becomes the highest paid profession in the country.”
Lyonchhen said, “As pledged, our focus is on according due motivation to the teachers, while also improving quality of the profession, which in turn will benefit our education system. Salary is just one aspect. As part of our flagship programs, we are also targeting capacity building and career advancement for teachers.”
Coming to the medical staff, the Prime Minister who is a former doctor and surgeon himself said, “But we haven’t disregarded our health workers, who are working relentlessly to take services to the people. They might deserve more and health is this government’s priority but within the limits, we have tried.”
The PM said that the government is mindful that health services are provided by every healthcare worker across the country and not just one doctor or two.
The Health Minister Lyonpo Dechen Wangmo said that the Education and Health are two social sector that needed a lot of investment. She said that she is not saying that other sectors are not important but that these two sectors need more attention to attract good teachers and doctors.
The minister said that good teachers will lead to good students and these students in the future will be soldiering the responsibility of national building which will bring a positive impact for a GNH country. The reality of the education sector has been that for many years teaching has been considered as a ‘last option.’ As a result, the best and brightest have not opted for it.
On the other hand, teaching has witnessed a constant and growing attrition rate which hit 4.02 percent in 2018 when 355 teachers left of which 266 had voluntarily resigned.
A 10-year period from 2008-18 saw 2,716 teachers leaving the profession.
The issue is not only the numbers but it is usually the more experienced and trained teachers leaving and they don’t always get the best replacements.
The medical profession has also witnessed a high attrition rate over the years with medical doctors opting out to become bureaucrats, work abroad or even join politics, and here too, it is the best and brightest who have been leaving.
The long work hours and heavier stress in both the professions have also been a factor along with these professionals not getting the perks and rest time associated with administrative bureaucrats.
The move from the DNT should also not come as a surprise as it had made it clear during its campaign that its main focus area is in the social sectors with health being a prime example.
The news of the hike and allowances was greeted positively by teachers, medical professionals and also many citizens.
Many teachers and medical professionals came on social media to thank the government. Some teachers even said that they were planning to leave but this raise has changed their minds.
While there were those who questioned the rationale, quite a few of them were anonymous accounts failing to make any substantive points against such a move.