Yangyel Lhaden

They sound desperate, willing to forgo benefits and even termination if they can come home. This is the plight of some Bhutanese in Kuwait who are stranded in the oil rich kingdom after their employers refused to let them go.

Kuensel through social media contacted about a dozen Bhutanese in Kuwait City. It is not known how many are stuck because of new contract they signed with the Kuwaiti companies and employers after maturation of their contract with Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) and relevant agencies under MoLHR.

Thousands of Bhutanese have returned from the Middle East. But they are those who went to the gulf countries for employment directly through the MoLHR.

According to regulations and contract signed with Kuwaiti companies, an employee must tender resignation three months in advance. 

However, some employers have different rules. Employees have to tender resignation three months in advance and pay for the remaining months of the contract tenure. That’s how many Bhutanese are stuck.

Bhutanese working at the City Centre, a Leading International Hypermarket Group, are not allowed to compensate even if they have the money for three months but those working in Sultan Centre, another multi-million retail store can.

Bhutanese in Kuwait approached the Bhutanese embassy in Kuwait for intervention, but since the individuals had signed contract agreement with the company they work with and not with the embassy and MoLHR, the embassy was helpless.

Sangay (name changed), working at the City Centre, said that she tendered her resignation on July 3. But she could not come home because of her contract with the company.

Chimi (name changed), another Bhutanese working in Kuwait City, said that she was even willing to forgo settlement money if the company let her leave.

“I only want to go home,” she said.

Four Bhutanese working at the City Centre have stopped going to work. Even as the place is now under lockdown, employees are made to work. They said they are taking the chance. If the company terminates them they would be able to return to Bhutan.

Two employees working at the City Centre, an Indian and Nepali national died after contracting Covid-19. Colleagues only knew much later. One Bhutanese said, “Instead of advising us to self-quarantine, the company made us work like usual. There is no safety here.” She added that some companies do not even provide face masks and hand sanitisers.

At the Sultan Centre, however, employees are provided with protective gears such as mask, gloves and sanitisers.

“Every time Bhutan takes its citizens home from the Middle East, our parents are worried,” Chimi said.

As the Covid-19 threat grows in Kuwait, the Bhutanese are feeling unsafe and uncared for.

Meanwhile, after hearing the plea of the employees, an agent in Bhutan requested the company to send their candidate back.

As of yesterday evening, the agent said that City Centre was going to have a meeting regarding this and the company told Bhutanese who wishes to return home to put up resignation. However, employees of Sultan Center have not received any resolution.