A notable positive impact of Covid-19 is the reduction of foreign workers and the opening of opportunities for young Bhutanese to join the nation’s blue-collar job opportunities.  The news of revised pay and allowances under the Build Bhutan Project will help attract thousands of other Bhutanese to become a part of this workforce soon. This also poses an increased risk of physical injuries and even death among our young people. The death of a minor and injury of several others at the Mega Dry Port construction this week is just the tip of an iceberg. This calls for immediate revision of existing rules on the compensation caused to a worker.  Presently, Bhutan seems to have the worst compensation in such cases.  Section 96 and 102 of the Labour and Employment Act, 2007 ensures the “right to compensation” to employees in case of an injury (permanent or partial disablement) or death due to work accident or occupational diseases as prescribed by the rules. 

Workers Compensation Regulation, 2009 details the compensation. Under Section 20, 21 and 22, of the regulation, in case of disablement, the worker is eligible for cost of rehabilitation, retraining services, cost of assistive devices and a “maximum of Nu 50,000 of any adaptations to the workplace or individual workstation to facilitate the return of the disabled worker to the workplace and to enable him or her to undertake productive work.” In case of death, under Rule 24 and 25, the dependent can claim a lumpsum amount of a minimum of equivalent to 3 years of the National Minimum Wage and equivalent of 70 percent of the employee’s last month’s basic wage/pay, before the deduction of income tax, but excluding overtime payments, allowances and other benefits, for a period of 1 year from the date of death.`

Let us look at a few examples. In India, a similar injury would attract “a minimum compensation of Rs 140,000 or 60 percent of his/her monthly wage multiplied by a factor based on the employee’s potential future earnings.” In case of death, “the worker’s immediate dependents are entitled to a minimum of Rs 120,000 or Rs 50,000 funeral expenses and 50 percent worker’s monthly wage multiplied by a factor based on the employee’s potential future earnings.”  In Singapore, in case of injury especially “permanent incapacity”, the employees are eligible for “average monthly earnings times age multiplying factor times percentage of permanent incapacity.” In case of death, the kin of an employee are eligible for “employee’s average monthly earnings times age multiplying factor.” In Japan, the compensation is not just limited to but to the entire bereaved family.

Let us take an example by age factor. Mr A dies at the age of 35 who is employed by Build Bhutan at the revised wage rate of Nu 20,000 per month with 50 percent salary and minimum earning age is 55. The dependent would get a minimum compensation of around Nu 2.4 million even by conservative method. Careful analysis of our current system indicates that worker’s compensation in Bhutan is extremely low and focuses purely on the individual worker. Unlike Bhutan, most other countries take cognizance of those who are dependent on the worker. Therefore, our government must reform and revise such policies and legislations holistically. With strong family bonds, our workers cannot be counted alone. Otherwise, our workers will continue to suffer at the mercy of poor state protections and employers. 

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.