This week Kuensel reported that “as the Royal Civil Service Commission approves the recruitment of foreign nurses, health workers, including doctors and nurses, share concerns about how it will affect the morale of local health workforce” considering the vast difference in salary between the foreign recruits and national nurses and doctors.  This is a valid concern, and the government must reflect on such a move as it may even potentially violate the Constitution. But this is not the first time, in the past, the government said that they would hire STEM teachers from India for Nu 140,000 which is comparatively higher than the Bhutanese STEM teachers.

Article 7 guarantees the principle of equality before the law and prohibits discrimination based on factors like race, sex, language, religion, etc. This enshrines the fundamental right to equal treatment and protection under the law, regardless of personal characteristics or status. Therefore, in terms of economic and social rights, paying foreign nurses and doctors more than Bhutanese citizens means, there is unequal, and discrimination based on nationality

Article 9 of the Constitution mandates fair remuneration based on the principle of “equal pay for equal work,” stipulating that compensation should be commensurate with the value of the work performed, irrespective of factors like nationality, gender, or race. Applying this to foreign healthcare workers in Bhutan, if they perform duties equivalent to their Bhutanese counterparts in skill, effort, responsibility, and conditions, they should receive equal pay; offering higher salaries for similar work would violate this provision. This principle extends beyond wage parity to broader workplace fairness, envisioning a just economic system where remuneration is objectively determined by work value, fostering meritocracy and preventing discriminatory practices. By enshrining this right, the Constitution not only protects individual workers but also promotes social cohesion through economic fairness and equality. 

Further, the Constitution mandates a Pay Commission under Article 30(1) to advise the government on salary structures, allowances, benefits, and emoluments for all public servants, regardless of their employment status, provided their remuneration comes from state funds. Article 30(2) stipulates that Pay Commission recommendations require Cabinet approval and parliamentary legislation for implementation. This framework ensures checks and balances, with expert input from the Commission and executive-legislative oversight on public sector compensation changes, aiming to “ensure pay parity and fairness for all public servants based on rational criteria”. This means the salary for foreign recruits must be approved by the parliament first. 

Research by the World Bank, ILO, and WHO indicates that high-income countries generally have lower emigration rates due to better working conditions and higher salaries. Conversely, many countries, particularly those with lower wages and limited opportunities, struggle to retain skilled workers. Healthcare professionals are notably prone to emigration, often seeking better work environments, higher pay, and increased job security abroad. 

The proposed move may further exacerbate the issue of public servants leaving the country, as they will feel undervalued for the same quality and value of service compared to foreigners. Thus, the government needs to focus on retaining the remaining professionals in the country, including those in the health, education, service, and technical sectors at all levels. It is essential to motivate these professionals to stay in the country, especially when we are facing high inflation, meagre income, and uncertainty by providing equal benefits to all, regardless of nationality, as long as these benefits are derived from the public exchequer.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

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