Ambiguous employment

Bhutan’s problem is not only with unemployment. With much attention and resources spent on giving work to jobless, we have overlooked the problems the employed face.

Penden Cement Authority, the institution that’s touted to have cemented the foundation of Bhutan’s infrastructural needs has violated labour rules. It has kept more than 130 workers on the muster roll for more than a decade depriving them of employee benefits that the labour laws mandate for.  These employees are categorised as national workforce and their contract renewed every three months.

Such practices of wage theft and employee misclassification raises serious questions on the way the authority, manages its human resources.  It raises questions on how labour inspectors and authorities concerned overlooked this violation. Questions are now raised on how this violation continued to occur especially when the labour secretary is the chairman of Penden Cement Authority’s board? And with this conflict of interest, how then would the labour ministry go about implementing its Act?

Besides indicating the economic activity in a society, work is important because it helps in providing for one’s family. In our society, work and more so who we work for, often defines who we are. But unclear employment status blurs employment rights and uncertainty can often result in exploitation of workers and violation of laws.

The authority’s management claims that it is conducting an occupational development exercise to determine the key positions required for the organisation. It has also claimed that implementing the labour laws overnight would impact the organisation as well as the quasi-employees.  The labour Act was implemented more than a decade ago and to not remedy it for this long is complacency, not compassion for the workers.

The authority’s management has also shared that these workers were recruited without following the due recruitment process.  It may not be alone in conducting such practices and nor would be the lone organisation that has workers on the muster roll for more than a year.

It is time the labour ministry started acting on fixing the ambiguity in employment status of the employed in the country. Instead of lamenting over the past practices, the labour ministry must ensure that all organisations abide by labour laws.  It must also ensure that in implementing its laws, it doesn’t violate the Constitution.  Article 7, Section 8 of the Constitution states that, “A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to equal access to and opportunity to join the public service.”

An OD exercise may not be enough to uphold this Constitutional provision and ensure that its workers are not deprived of their benefits.

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