Not long ago, the government banned the import of foreign workers for domestic help. There were problems with foreign workers, especially young girls, working as domestic helpers. The decision was logical. But no alternatives were explored.
With the ban, Bhutanese, particularly office-goers, suddenly fell short of helpers at home. Some managed to convince parents or grandparents to come and babysit. Others clandestinely brought in foreigners from across the border. Those found breaching the rule were penalized, but many escaped the eyes of authorities.
The problem still exists. In the meantime, many have resorted to planning and it is not good for the country. About 70 percent of people in the country have no more than two children. They attribute it to the lack of domestic helpers. Policies like the six-month long maternity leave are generous, but raising a child without a helper hampers career growth, family obligations, and most of all, parental duties.
The recent research on professionalising domestic help in the country comes at the most appropriate time. The research conducted by a premier institute, the Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies (RIGSS) found that there is a huge scope for professionalising domestic service to help both job seekers and those in need of the service.
Jobseekers, the study found, are willing to become professional domestic helpers if the conditions are right. Potential employers surveyed feel the need for professional domestic helpers. The catch phrase is “professional” and the study has the answers. The finding is that if people are trained and the profession recognised, instead of being looked down upon or stigmatised, there is the scope for both those in need of these services and job seekers to benefit.
There is hope for all. Young people, according to the research, are ready to take up jobs as professional domestic helpers and working couples are willing to employ them. Meeting the needs of the potential helpers, namely in terms of a salary, is a problem. The monthly salary youth expect as professionals exceeds the amount that adult respondents are willing to pay. This need not be an issue, if we consider the larger interests at play. Employment is on the rise, governments cannot find long-term solutions, and there is an exodus of young people leaving for greener pastures. Interventions like the government lending a hand and topping up salaries can be a solution.
In trying to solve the growing problem of youth unemployment, the government spends millions. The solutions are not short-term, such as sending young men and women to work abroad. While remittance is a source of income, it is shortsighted.
Besides creating jobs, the lack of domestic helpers will have long-term implications. If the lack of it is determining family size, and therefore population, it will have severe ramifications. The birth rate is decreasing. It is expected to decline to 1.8 percent in the next eight years, which means we will have fewer actively productive people than what the economy demands. An ageing population, it is known, raises challenges for society and the government. We need a young workforce to keep the economy moving forward.
There is a discourse following the research findings. It should translate into action. It provides a basis for long-term planning and decision making. We should not let the research findings gather dust on the shelves. It is in our hands.