The plight of Bhutanese working overseas calls for urgent attention.

While the earn and learn programme in Japan remains controversial, another group of Bhutanese were reportedly scammed to earn and learn in Malaysia. These cases are not new and we have failed miserably to intervene and address issues confronting our youth, both at home and abroad.

Initiatives taken to address unemployment have become a business opportunity more than a programme to reduce the social malice that is of our making. We have tolerated vulnerable youth who are desperate for work to be conned under the pretext of working and studying abroad. Even the death of a Bhutanese in Japan has not moved our authorities to re-look thoroughly into the programme that continues to be abused.

The labour ministry has said that it is reviewing the programme. However, it appears that the move is not so much as to address the grievances and issues therein but to change the perception of the programme. Given the intent of the programme and the issues it is expected to address, the ministry has to do more than give it a make over. That the labour ministry is more concerned with the perception of the programme and not the reasons for creating such perceptions among the people is disturbing.

The labour ministry has the mandate to ensure employment promotion through an effective employment service system and facilitate job creation. It is to facilitate human resource development for economic development and to ensure gainful employment for all Bhutanese workforce. It has a vision where all citizens have the opportunity for a gainful and quality employment characterised by harmonious and productive relationship in the workplace and the broader community.

Today, these have become mere rhetoric and the ministry has been unable to put in place an effective employment service system, be it for vocational or university graduates. If it takes this long to address the problems in one programme, it could be a laborious task for the ministry to facilitate human resource development for the country. The ACC’s snail paced investigation into the earn and learn programme in Japan is not helping either.

So, after the youth, it is now their parents who are getting impatient on the inactions from authorities.  Yesterday, a group of parents of those youth in Japan met the prime minister to share their grievances. They also met the chairperson and members of the National Council. The house’s Social and Cultural Affairs Committee was assigned to review the matter urgently. Would the government also review it with urgency? We do not know yet.

Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment is the biggest challenge confronting the country today. The government and the ministry can ill afford to play down the issue and lament about the negative perception it has created among the people. It is time to get working.