The originally unemployed find the going even tougher due to the pandemic

On several occasions earlier this year, the Prime Minister had said that COVID-19 has widened the unemployment rate with more Bhutanese people laid-off or not being paid in countries abroad and having to return home.

The Economic Contingency Plan (ECP) unit operating under the PMO, in one of the conferences, highlighted that the group of people along with those who lost jobs or had unfavorable source of income due to COVID-19 could be employed under several gainful employment projects and Build Bhutan.

However, people who had been previously unemployed, prior to COVID-19 pandemic, feel that there is now a greater challenge for the limited work opportunities with the steep competition in the job market coming from those who have returned from abroad with better skills and experience than them.

Tshewang Rinchen from the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) said, “In general, the ministry will continue implementing the plans and programs as per the 12th FYP. Furthermore, in the wake of global COVID-19 pandemic, the ministry is currently under process with the formulation of different programs and projects to address the issues related to unemployment in the country including those laid-off.”

He added that for the time being the projects and programs have not been finalized and specific details would be available through a press release on completion of the blueprint.

Currently unemployed, Dechen Tshomo, who had been working in 5-Star hotels in India and Oman for five years, has come back to Bhutan before the COVID-19 pandemic. She said, “It is a harsh challenge for everyone during this pandemic. In our country, we have very less job opportunities and although there are job opportunities, it is very hard to maintain a good lifestyle with the pay scale we get. Because of that, many people went to work abroad, to make money for their future, and some due to family background issues, many of us went in order to support our families back home.”

She added “After coming back, it has become a challenge for everyone knowing that they will be stay jobless, and even when there is a job, it normally doesn’t meet our salary expectations in comparison to the experiences we have. Many of us have to depend on private sectors like hotels, tourism industries, which are badly affected currently throughout the world.” She added that the pandemic has weakened the mental stability of many of them. Her friends who used to work abroad are reluctant to go back and work due to the fear of the coronavirus.

Anu Kumari Subba, 22, is a National Certificate 2 (NC-2) graduate since August 2019. She is also certified through MoLHR’s assessment board, and is currently thinking of switching her job preference since she does not feel comfortable working in accounts.

She said that even for an office assistant post, there is quite a lot of competition and normally her NC-2 certification was overlooked in place of her 12th grade academic transcript that she says is comparatively lesser to her NC-2 grades. She said that she and her friends are concerned, given the possible increase in the number of jobseekers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deki Yangzom, who also has the same qualification, stated that she has troubles with getting through in interviews, and that ever since she has applied in quite of lot of places and is hopeful in landing a job for herself. She is currently helping out her parents in Trongsa.

Til Bahadur Rai was working in one of the hotels in Phuentsholing until the first few months of the pandemic. He could not continue working at the hotel on just half of his salary. He said it was tough to provide for his family on his full salary of Nu 7,000. But halving the salary made him quit the work, and instead he opened up a massage and haircut parlour in Phuentsholing.

He said that he was certified for the skill through one of the 14-day workshop carried out in Gelephug in 2019 by the government. He is thankful that he had the support from his parents, and the government for registering him for the skills training. However, he wishes for a stable job as his business is uncertain at the moment.

Some of the jobseekers said that they joined the DeSuung progam and some of them went back to their villages to help their parents instead of staying idle.

Karma, a high school graduate, said that the search for jobs and staying home made her mentally fatigued and she did not feel very good about herself even when she went out with friends. She felt that her overall joy in life had declined.

In one of the Parliament sessions earlier this year, it was discussed that the current labor force survey needed to be updated, and with the pandemic affecting a huge number of employed people, it will surely be a challenge given the current priorities in place with regard to health.

The 12th FYP plan for the Department of Employment and Human Resources (DEHR) consists of programs, like Youth Engagement and Learning Program (YELP) which will be delivered through Youth Engagement Program (YEP), Employment Support Program (ESP), Project Specified Support (PSS) and Skilling Program (SP).

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