Employers say employees not returning to work, staff claim otherwise

Yeshey Lhadon

As hotels lost businesses in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, one immediate step to cut cost was relieving staff on unpaid leave or slashing salary as high as by 50 percent.

Those who lost their jobs applied for the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu and received the kidu for the last three months. Now the employees, hoteliers say, are not willing to return to work even as they strategise their business and decide to open hotels.

Ugyen Dorji, a hotel owner in Thimphu started with 27 staff last December. Now he is left with four. The rest have been on unpaid leave since April. He needed a few more staff to operate his hotel, which was being used as a quarantine centre.

He said, “I made several phone calls to my staff. I asked them to come back to work. None returned.”

The staff signed an agreement before setting out for unpaid leave. They agreed to return when their employers ask.

He said, “They declined to return to work because they can manage with the Kidu money. 

Maybe they are scared to work at a quarantine facility.”

Employers who tried to contact their staff through phone calls found out that some were out of reach or switched off while some had blocked their employers’ numbers.

Pemaling Villa’s owner Ngawang Thinley said his staff started asking for unpaid leave right after he applied for Kidu on their behalf. He had 18 staff before the business was lost to Covid-19. He’s now managing with five. He didn’t let his staff apply for Kidu until May and claimed that he paid full salary in March and April. He paid 50 percent of the salary in May after his staff started receiving Kidu.

He said some staff stopped returning after taking a few days off. “One just dropped a message saying she won’t be returning and blocked all the staff from her social media account and phone,” said Ngawang Thinley

The owner of Babesa Village restaurant lost three staff after Kidu was approved. “I asked them to come back. After sometime, they stopped responding to my calls,” he said.

With the kidu extended by three more months, many hoteliers said that staff agreed to return from their unpaid leave and refused to do so. One said she offered her receptionist a top up on the Nu 12,000 he receives from the Kidu office.

Another said that while the government is encouraging the Kidu recipients to look for jobs, staff are not willing to come and work. “What will happen after the Kidu? Most are not thinking.”

While some are grieving over the loss of their well-trained employees, some are thinking of recruiting new employees. Ugyen Dorji said, “I have decided to recruit new staff.”


What employees say?

Some employees took it as an opportunity to look for a better working environment. One employee, requesting anonymity, said she wanted a change. “I couldn’t stick around as the job didn’t align with what I was hired for,” she said. “I have served twice in the quarantine facility but the working environment was getting toxic. My boss stressed me out, pushed me to quit.”

She also complained of mistreatment. “My owners forced me to do their household chores. I once went to cultivate paddy. I worked long hours without a day off or shift system. And even got dragged into their domestic problems.”

She joined the hotel after she lost her job in Kuwait and returned home. As a new recruit on probation period, she was paid Nu 5,500. But when the hotel lost business, it was slashed by 50 percent. She claims that she didn’t know that her owner has applied for Kidu on her behalf, as she didn’t receive any text notification.

“I don’t want to sit back and depend on the Kidu. If I was only looking for a means of support, I could have applied for Kidu on my own reasoning that I have lost my job in Kuwait due to the pandemic.” On June 17 she received the Kidu. “My employer informed me that I would no longer get Kidu as I had left the job,” she said.

Leki, another employee, took voluntary unpaid leave. He is a Kidu recipient and willing to return if his employer calls him again.  “I was doing voluntary service for De-suung in the centenary market when my employer asked me to return,”

He wanted to join work from July 1 but his manager issued a notice saying that the unpaid leave is extended until further notice.

Without guests in hotels and restaurants, employees who received the Kidu felt it was better without a job as the kidu amount was higher than their basic salary. Hotel staff are paid a low basic salary and depend on service charges. With business down and salary slashed or sent on unpaid leave, the Kidu came not only as a relief, but also as a better option.

Richen Tshomo working as a food and beverage staff was paid Nu 6,000. She resigned in May to babysit her nephew. She received kidu for three months. Nu12, 000 in April, Nu 8,000 each in May and June.

“My employer briefed me that I won’t be receiving the Kidu if I resign. But I wanted to apply for another job anyway.”

The chairman of Hotel and Restaurant Association, Sonam Wangchuk, said the association had not received any written complaints. “The issue is between owners and their employees. If the owners are not paying and asking their staff to work, it depends on the staff whether to work or not. If the owners pay them, the owner has the right to ask them to work,” he said.

Most of the contact numbers of employees shared by the employers were not reachable.