Yangchen C Rinzin 

Like in many other countries, Covid-19 will have a serious impact on employment.

Unemployment is already one of the biggest problems facing the country.

Bhutan’s current unemployment rate is at 3.4 percent according to the Labour Force Survey Report 2018. The youth unemployment rate is at 15.7 percent, higher than 12.3 percent in 2017.

Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that the impact on unemployment now was visible especially in tourism and hospitality, adding up to the unemployment rate.

Activities and plans to address employment in the country are now shelved to fight the Covid-19.

“Unemployment will increase, as those who had jobs before are now becoming jobless,” Lyonpo said. “Now we’ve different segments of people unemployed due to Covid-19.”

The ministry had a major plan to engage youth through technical and vocational education and training (TVET). This is now being looked after by the Prime Minister’s Office. TVET will be delinked from the ministry and established as an autonomous agency.

The ministry’s other plan was the national service. It is now called Gyalsung and is delinked from the ministry.

With two major activities under the labour ministry taken, the only major activity related to solving unemployment was Youth Engagement Livelihood Programme (YELP). This too had to be sidelined because of the pandemic.

YELP was initiated to gainfully engage unemployed job seekers who have completed Class X and above. The programme, which was designed to support the livelihood of about 6,000 youth in 12th Plan, was launched in August last year.

The programme’s target was to support 1,500 jobseekers with allowances annually, especially in the construction and agriculture sectors.

Lyonpo said that when YELP was first launched, the ministry had to wait for the youth to apply for the programme, as civil service examination was their priority for graduates and majority of Class X students were absorbed in Class XI because of no cut-off policy.

“We expected more youth to apply for YELP after completing RCSC and Class XI admission. Then came the Covid-19 scare disrupted the entire plan,” said the minister.

The ministry also had another plan called the Technical Intern Training Programme (TITP) and send youth for technical training internships in Japan.

“There are other plans like overseas employment where at least 50 young people used to leave in a month for jobs overseas,” Lyonpo said. “Skill programme is also disrupted.”

The ministry was also preparing to revise wage rate. A concept paper was prepared.

Lyonpo said that given the situation if ministry had decided to implement the revision, it would have come as a blow, especially to the tourism and hospitality sectors.

“When we were discussing to revise the wage rate there were already issue related to the sustainable development fee and tax reforms,” Lyonpo said.

But the ministry, he said, was working on a project to address the unemployment issue which is now exacerbated the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re planning to come up with attractive packages to address the challenges,” Lyonpo said. “This will be more to engage people and employ those affected by Covid-19.”

The ministry has already collected the records of how many employees were laid off, sent on unpaid leave, or without salary.