…includes unemployed, overseas returnees and laid-off staff

Yangchen C Rinzin

Leki Wangmo, 29, joined a construction firm recently. She doesn’t know the name of the company who employed her. She joined the company as soon as she got the opportunity not even questioning the kind of job.

Leki needed the job. Seven months ago before her new job, Leki was a waitress in a Thimphu hotel. She lost her job owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. After leaving the job in May, she depended on the Druk Gyalpoi’s Relief Kidu apart from her husband’s, a salesman, income.

“It was not enough to pay house rent and meet other expenses,” she said. “I wanted work, any kind of work and I was feeling guilty having to depend on the Kidu.”

The moment she learnt about the government’s plan to engage youth through the Build Bhutan Project (BBP), she applied.

Today, Leki is one of the 100 or so youth who is employed with eight specialised firms in the construction sector. She works with the Design and Build Bhutan firm.

The specialised firms launched yesterday is a critical component of the BBP under the Economic Contingency Plan prepared during the pandemic. These firms will engage youth trained in electrical (house wiring), plumbing, construction carpentry, steel fabrication, masonry, and building painting at the technical training institutes (TTI).

Another youth, Deo Kumar Subba was worried about finding a job after completing TTI training in electrical wiring. “But our trainer informed us to try BBP and today I’m happy to be working under a firm that gives me Nu 18,000 a month.”

At the launch, the firms were awarded both certificates and repair and maintenance works of government agencies. The work, which is worth Nu 11.201 million is for the fiscal year 2020-2021.

The Department of National Properties designed the work package after finding which government agencies needed repair and maintenance work.  Of 63 works submitted by 20 agencies, 13 works were awarded to the eight specialised firms. Most of the works are based in Thimphu and Paro. An official from the department said the rest of the work would be awarded in the next package when new firms are set up.

“We selected works based on the date of commencement and immediate requirement for repair and maintenance. Most of the work was planned for October.”

BBP project manager, Kezang Jigme said that apart from awarding work without tender, these specialised firms are provided free registration with Construction Development Board (CDB) for certification, and the government will provide 25 percent wage top-up for the employees.

He said they would also ensure those workers who will be employed through BBP, have Provident Fund where the government will provide 10 percent, and another five percent will be deducted from the employees’ salary.

The government has also provided uniform, personal protective equipment and power tools and equipment, which were handed over to firms yesterday.

The government will also help these firms avail loans at a lower interest rate from National Cottage and Small Industries Development Bank Limited. The labour ministry is also looking into bringing in trainers from abroad to train youth.

“Our aim right now is to make specialised firms sustain and take up works to compete with other regular contractors in future,” Kezang Jigme said. “We want to formalise these firms, as they were doing small business and never got the opportunity to participate in larger contracts.”

He added that when regular/principal contractors take up government work it would be compulsory for them to employ workers from these firms.

Initially, 19 interested groups had registered for certification. CDB certified eight after meeting certain criteria.

Pelden Skills Service run by four graduates from TTI was also one of the firms that were certified and received works yesterday.

Tashi Rinzin of Palden Skills Service said they used to take up small plumbing works but never got the chance to work as a registered firm. “An official from the labour ministry helped us to register, and we’re happy that we’ve our own firm where we can slowly employ people like us.”

Meanwhile, since its launch in July, more than 3,000 youth have registered with BBP of which 30 percent chose to join the TTIs. About 271 are directly employed (including those in specialised firms), 77 were trained in plumbing in the first batch from various TTIs and are currently on the job training.

More than 300 are being placed in different TTIs for the second batch. “We’ll try to take in all those registered. The highest demand for workers are in Thimphu, Phuentsholing and Gelephu, but it’s difficult to engage them given the pandemic situation.”

As of yesterday, there is a demand for 3,690 workers against the 3,151 youth registered with BBP. While the requirement for overall workers in the country is about 50,000 and there are only 18,000 foreign workers in the country today.

“This means we’re short of about 30,000 workers right now. We may not be able to fill the gap, but we’ll be happy even if we engage about 14,000 through the BBP,” Kezang Jigme said.