Yangchen C Rinzin

In an attempt to meet the shortage of workers in the construction sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the labour ministry launched Build Bhutan Project (BBP) yesterday.

The project with a budget of Nu 1,040 million is expected to ease unemployment and layoffs by filling the gap in the construction sector.

The project comes at a time when there is a shortage of 14,495 foreign workers, including 7,405 skilled workers, in the construction sector due to the restriction imposed in response to Covid-19.

The construction sector is short of masons, carpenters, steel fabricators, plumbers, electricians, building painters, operators, and rod binders.

Labour minister Ugyen Dorji during the launch said that the project will engage about 7,000 individuals over a period of two years.

Lyonpo said the project will employ unemployed persons registered with the ministry, laid-off employees, employees on unpaid leave during the pandemic, and overseas returnees.

The project will train job seekers, reskill them, or improve their skills in construction trades leading to national certification. The ministry survey conducted in March showed that there was a demand for about 7,533 skilled workers from 2,379 employers.

The BBP was initiated to match the demand for workers in the construction sector with the supply of workers. It will mobilise, create and manage a pool of skilled and unskilled workforce to meet the requirements of the sector, and promote the sector as an attractive avenue for employment.

“It is a very risky and ambitious initiative we’re embarking on, but if not now then when. It’s time to change the mindset to take up the job in the construction sector,” Lyonpo said.

“It is about an individual who should put their heart to contribute to the economy during such a difficult situation.”   

He said that many returning from overseas worked in retail or sales which have less avenue of employment at home and without option, the construction sector is the only choice right now.

“The Bhutanese must take this as an opportunity to contribute to nation-building and keep the economy running. During the pandemic, the service is needed more in the construction sector for now.”

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Tshering said that any kind of construction, need labourers, construction materials, and finance.

Lyonpo said that for materials, apart from buying local materials, the government has been looking into making materials available. The allocation of the capital budget for the 2020-21 financial year is more than 25 percent.

Implementation strategy to attract unemployed

Labour minister said to make BBP attractive, one of the most important strategies is instituting a wage top-up in addition to what employers pay. The government will add 15 percent of monthly wage based on the worker’s level of skills.

If the engagement of worker is less than a month, the wage top-up will be provided on a Pro Rata basis. For instance, if an employer pays Nu 18,000 for a diploma level, the government will top-up Nu 2,700.

The BBP will also institute a retirement security and benefits scheme, including provident fund.

Lyonpo said the BBP will contribute 10 percent of the employee’s basic salary to the PF and the employer adds five percent.

This is for the first year of the project and from the second year, the contribution will involve a tripartite and contribute five percent each.

“The uniqueness of this scheme is that it is portable meaning the employee will not have to necessarily stick with one company to avail the PF,” Lyonpo said. “There is also a flexibility to withdraw the contribution as and when required.”

However, the employee will have to engage in the construction sector for at least a year to withdraw the entire PF.

“If an employee wants to withdraw before a year, they will only get their share of PF contribution while BBP contribution of 10 percent will be put back to the project.”

The workers under the BBP will be given training through a compressed unstructured training programme with 20 percent of it conducted at the technical training institutes, as foundational courses and the remainder 80 percent at the designated companies in the form of on-the-job training or attachment.

Lyonpo said to ease the employer’s financial burden and to improve the working conditions and environment in the construction sector, the BBP will also provide work uniform to start with as an added incentive.

The project will register and categorise interested job seekers into two groups, skilled and non-skilled. Both the employer and employee can register with BBP online.

Lyonpo said that as a long term objective, the labour ministry in collaboration with works and human settlement ministry will create an employment agency in the construction sector.

“This sector will provide a sustainable supply and management of skilled construction workforce. This will make the construction industry a key sector in generating employment opportunities.”

There are 26,000 foreign workers in the country today.