In the recent compulsory retirement case of employees of the College of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, the Royal University of Bhutan, reported that, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources refused to accept their application of grievance. The then National Assembly of Bhutan, enacted the Labour and Employment Act of Bhutan in 2007. The fundamental principle objectives of law is to protect and ensure the wellbeing of workers in the country from any form of unfair treatment including working conditions and other disciplinary actions by their employers.

In the recent case of CLCS, while rejecting the appeal of the employees aggrieved by decisions of the college and university, the MoLHR stated that, since the employees are under the RUB, their appeal was “outside the purview of Labour and Employment Act of Bhutan, 2007” and the ministry deals only with “cases of employers and employees of private enterprises”.  This means, current labour law was enacted only to protect the employees of private enterprises. This means, all the state-owned enterprises including financial institutions, hydropower projects or even the public institutions like Druk PNB, Tashi Bank, CSOs, public media houses (BBS and Kuensel) or similar organizations are also not governed by this law because none of these organizations would fall within the definition of private enterprise.

Contrary to this view, Section 3 of the Act only excludes, the armed forces, RBP, RBG and RBA while Section 4 of the Act, categorically states that, “Any matter pertaining to labour and employment not covered under any other laws shall be covered by this Act from the date of its enactment.”  This means, this law is not exclusive of private enterprise, rather is it inclusive of any other employer or organization, whether government or private or NGOs who not covered by other employment laws would fall under the scope of this law. For example, civil servants are governed by Civil Service Act of Bhutan and hence, it is not within the scope of labour law.  Further, contravening the recent justification, as per the Kuensel news, in 2018, the former, Chief Executive Officer of RICBL appealed to the ministry against the decisions of the Board when he was compulsorily retired by his employer invoking various provisions in the labour law. And there are no reports of rejection of his appeal. The nature and establishment of both RUB and RICBL are similar. 

In the larger context, such exclusion and narrow definitions would not only contravene the provisions of the Labour and Employment Act, 2007 but will also undermine the parliamentary intent of protecting thousands of employees in the country. If the current definition of MoLHR is accepted, then the parliament must either amend the current law to expand its scope or come up with a new legislation to protect employees who are outside the purview of the current labour law. The road to litigation must be invoked only as a final resort and shall not be considered norm for all employee related grievances.

In litigation, it is generally the employees and their families who suffer the most, both financially and economically. It would also add burden to the existing workload of judiciary in administration of justice. We must realize that, it is the workers, who contribute to economic growth and development of the country not the employers themselves alone. 

Sonam Tshering Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not reflect those of Kuensel.