The president of the committee of parents, who have sent their children to Japan through the Earn and Learn programme, has claimed that he has gathered enough evidence to take legal action against agent Bhutan Employment Overseas (BEO).

The committee’s president Sonam Tshering and its lawyer Ngawang Tobgay are currently in Japan to study the working conditions and to gather evidence on alleged malpractices in the programme.

“We got enough evidence to fight against BEO. We will fight legally that’s why our lawyer is with us,” Sonam Tshering told Kuensel.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering at the meet the press on March 1 said that the issues related to the programme were between private agencies and that bilateral relations were not affected. However, he expressed concerns on the parents’ representative and the private lawyer visiting Japan and holding “almost national level” press conferences.

“We have absolutely no problems with the parents’ representatives going there. But I hope they are aware and conscious about the future consequences of such visits,” Dr Lotay Tshering said.

The prime minister also said that the usage of words by the representatives in their meetings with the Japanese press did not bode well for the country’s image. Japan, he said, was the second largest bilateral development partner after India. “The issue is at the local agent level. The issue was not required to be raised at the national level,” lyonchhen said.

However, Sonam Tshering said there was no need for the parents’ representatives to visit Japan had the government taken initiatives to investigate the case. He said the government has been inconsistent in its commitment towards solving the problem.

He said he has not spoken anything against the government and that the issue would remain had they not raised their voice. “Now that we are here in Japan, they are worried that the truth is coming out,” he said.

After they return home, he said, he hopes to explain the issue to the prime minister and the labour minister and clear the misunderstanding.

Sonam Tshering claimed that through his interaction, he came across Bhutanese youth who were in problems and were living in a ‘pathetic condition.’ “There is no solution as such. They (the youth) can’t tell the government to wave off the loan.”

According to him, most youth in Japan were unhappy with the situation they were in. “Students here feel cheated by BEO and many faced problems and suffered so much.”

He claimed that instead of helping the students, BEO and local partner SND were allegedly taking commissions. “And the students feel they are being used to get the commission.”

One of the students Kuensel talked to say the labour ministry and the BEO did not help them even when they requested. “When MoLHR came to meet us they scolded us instated of giving advice and solution,” the student said.


How much do they earn? 

According to Sonam Tshering, the maximum a youth could earn was about 83,000 Japanese Yen a month, from which 18,000 should be paid as rent in addition to utilities bills.

Earlier, some of the youth who had returned to Bhutan had claimed that a student who could take up more than one job and work eight hours a day could earn about 200,000 Japanese yen a week, which was enough to pay all the bills including the loan. However, it was clarified that taking up two jobs were not allowed and that the youth did not get time for attending classes if they took two jobs.

A group of six students from Okinawa wrote to Kuensel in response to its earlier article on March 5, stating that it was unrealistic to earn 200,000 yen a week. The highest wage rate per hour in Tokyo, according to them, is about 958-1,300 Japanese yen.

They claimed they earn 762 Japanese yen an hour and that the wage can increase by 25 percent if they work from 10pm to 5am.

Most of the youth, Sonam Tshering said, would complete their course soon and are worried about whether their visa would be reviewed since their visa will expire with the course.

The government has said that it is looking into the visa issues through the embassy in New Delhi, India.

Sonam Tshering said it was difficult for class 12 graduates to get working visa. According to him, if the students take up two jobs, they would not get adequate time to attend classes.

More than 700 youth were sent to Japan by BEO in collaboration with its Japanese counterpart SND with the labour ministry’s approval. The parents’ representatives have so far met 420 youth in various cities of Japan.

MB Subba