With the immigration officials in Gelephu raiding the shops and hotels on June 24, the regional labour and human resource office in Gelephu received requisition for about 248 workers.

Although immigration officials refused to share information about the raid, it was learnt that almost all the shops and hotels in the town were found with at least one non Bhutanese worker without work permit.

Business people would be imposed a fine of Nu 19,800 for one non Bhutanese worker without a permit.

Although the immigration rules mandate shops and hotels to employ Bhutanese, shopkeepers and hoteliers claim that the regional labour ministry office could not provide them with the required number of people they asked for.

Business people claim that although they employ Bhutanese workers, most do not stay more than six months. They say that they are forced to recruit non Bhutanese workers.

One of the garment shop owners in Gelephu town, Prem Jain, was caught with two non Bhutanese workers without a permit.

He said without the two workers he can’t run the business. “I recruited more than 10 Bhutanese workers at a minimum salary of Nu 4,500 a month but no one stayed more than two months.”

Prem Jain says he pays the fine whenever caught and keep the two workers. “This is how I keep my business running.”

The owner of one of the biggest grocery shops in Gelephu, Harandra Kumar Gupta, said that in last few years he recruited more than 15 Bhutanese youth.

He said that while some worked for few months, many did not show up at work after two weeks. “Bhutanese employees stay on leave on their own, which affects our business operation.”

He has three non Bhutanese workers and he claimed he still requires four people (Bhutanese) in the shop. “I applied to the labour office several times but I did not get any employee.”

He said that if the regional labour office provides them with adequate Bhutanese workers, they will comply with the mandate.

The owner of the Gelephu Tshongkhag, Sanjay Jain, said it is the time something is done to retain Bhutanese employees in the trading sector.

He said they provide a minimum salary of Nu 5,000 with breakfast and free lunch. “Many are reluctant to work.” He said he needs at least six people in the shop to keep the business running.

The labour ministry’s regional director Sonam Dhendup said it is the first time the trading and service sector in Gelephu thromde requested for a large number of workers.

He said that the office would compile all requisition and announce in the media soon. “Then the office will conduct a mass interview and recruit youth in the direct employment scheme.”

Sonam Dhendup said he is positive that the demand would be met.

Between 2014 and 2017, the regional office recruited 562 youth for trading and service sector in the six dzongkhags of Sarpang, Tsirang, Dagana, Trongsa, Bumthang and Zhemgang.

The regional director said that about 132 people withdrew.

He said that the issue is the retention. “The employer has to come up with strategies, such as leave record and salary incentives to retain workers.”

He also suggested that the employers come up with contract agreements.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Gelephu