The government has decided to not entertain the Earn and Learn programme until the on-going issues are solved.

This applies not only to the programme in Japan but also to other countries like Malaysia.

Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering in a telephone interview said that the existing arrangements are between private agents.

“For now, we are dealing at the government to government level through the embassy in Delhi to solve counsellor and visa problems,” he said. “As they finish their language course, the government will try to come in to look for regular jobs.”

On the Anti-Corruption Commission’s recommendation of administrative action against the director general (DG) of the department of employment and human resources, Lyonchhen said that the government has forwarded the case to the Royal Civil Service Commission as the DG is at the executive level.

The government’s decision comes after Bhutanese youth sent to Japan complained of exploitation and corruption in the programme.

Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO) sent more than 700 Bhutanese youth to various cities in Japan through the programme. However, the youth and their parents claim that not only are the working conditions in Japan harsh, earnings are also not enough to sustain their living and to repay the loans.

Labour minister Ugyen Dorji clarified that the government has not cancelled its proposed visit to study the issues plaguing the Earn and Learn programme in Japan.

“The proposed visit has not been cancelled. We will visit Japan at an appropriate time,” he said.

He said the government was concerned about the issue and that it was doing its best to resolve it. “But some people want us to do things in the way they want, which we cannot,” he said, adding that the government had to look at the issue objectively.

The ministry, he said, was bogged down by negative coverage on the issue on both social and mainstream media. He said the government knew about the issue more than those posting negative comments on social media.

He said he met with both the parents and the BEO officials to listen to both sides of the story. “We do things in good faith. Waiving off the loans is not an option,” he said.

Each Bhutanese youth has taken loan of Nu 600,000 to Nu 700,000 and pays Nu 14,000 as interest at the rate of 8 percent.

Asked on the government’s stand on overseas employment programmes, the labour minister said, “We have not given attention to positive aspects of such programmes.”

He said that the youth and their parents equally needed to be responsible to address the unemployment issues facing the country.

The government on March 1 issued an executive order, providing a grace period for youth who have taken up the programme in Japan, until the completion of their courses. The duration of the language course is four years for class 12 graduates and two years for graduates. The applicants should contact the respective banks to process the loan deferment documentation within three months. About 100 youth have returned home from Japan and they are as eligible to apply for the loan deferment scheme.

A parent’s committee met with the prime minister and the labour minister in December last year to apprise the government of the issues.

According to the youth placed in Japan, they need not pay tuition fees for the first year as the placement firm pays a year’s fees and that they only need to pay loan instalments and for utilities. However, the financial burden on the candidate increases beginning second year, as the candidate has to pay study fee also.

Some of the youth say that they earn about 200,000 Japanese yen a week if they worked eight hours a day but they can work for four hours only legally.

MB Subba