Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

With the labourers from across the border grounded due to the pandemic, unemployed Bhutanese youth have taken up loading and unloading jobs.

While Covid-19 has created employment opportunities for young Bhutanese, employers find it expensive to hire them.

In Thimphu, Abhaya Traders’ owner, Tashi Dorji, said the loading charges for local labourers are almost five times higher than the previous cost.

“The Bhutanese are taking advantage of the current situation and charging abnormal rates for loading,” he said. “And we are left with no other alternatives.”

Abhaya Traders imports construction materials. And due to the high loading charges there is huge impact on the cost of construction materials.

Prior to the border closure, Indian labourers charged about Nu 360 per metric tonne (MT). Today, unloading a red brick costs Nu 1.5. A truckload of goods is charged anywhere between Nu 4,000 to Nu 7,000 and has gone up to Nu 30,000 depending upon the load weight.

  Local labourers load the trucks

Local labourers load the trucks

At the mini dry port (MDP) yesterday, Ugyen Dorji of Druk Norzang Builders said that such high price was all due to the shortage of labourers.

“The labourers at the port are charging high,” he said, adding that most of the time he did not get labourers to load heavy materials. They are charging between Nu 10,000 to Nu 12,000 per truck.”

Ugyen Dorji said that he was once charged Nu 1,800 for transshipping a package of glass.

After the gate was closed on March 23, there was an acute shortage of labourers in Phuentsholing. Due to this, some grocery wholesalers were also unable to transport essential goods to other dzongkhags from Phuentsholing.

Eventually, the regional labour office in Phuentsholing recruited local people, mostly jobless youth and those who lost jobs for the manual job. Under this initiative, today, there are about 240 Bhutanese youth registered with different employers. About 160 are engaged in loading and unloading jobs.

Sonam Tshering, a driver, said: “Labour cost has become so expensive. Prior to the pandemic, labourers charged as per the MT.”

An employee with Phuentsholing Electronics Centre said the labourers asked Nu 6,000 per truckload but she negotiated at Nu 4,000.

A resident, Pema, recently imported 4,000 red bricks. He paid loading price of Nu 1.5 per brick at the MDP.

Before, he said there was no need to take the imported (from Jaigaon) materials to the dry port. Transportation from Jaigaon to the MDP is an additional cost now, he added.

Ugyen Dorji, who is working at the MDP with 12 recovering addicts, said the job was not easy.

“We are not experienced people. The loads are heavy. Two of our boys were also injured,” he said, adding that the rates had also been lowered recently.

If importers in Thimphu are complaining about higher rates, Ugyen Dorji said that it was because many drivers load and unload goods themselves and inflate the rates with their owners.

“And it is all due to miscommunication,” he said.

Importers say that the authorities should fix a standard labour charge to resolve the matter.