Both high and low-end positions lie vacant as Bhutanese remain either unable or unwilling

Tourism: The hospitality industry still finds it difficult to recruit Bhutanese to perform certain jobs that so far are done by expatriate workers, for whom the labour ministry no longer issues work permits.

Almost three years ago, the labour ministry made it mandatory for hotels and other sectors to replace expatriate workers with Bhutanese in several categories of jobs like wet sweepers, laundry, and cooks.

However, hoteliers claim that they hardly get any Bhutanese for these jobs and have raised the issue with the Hotel and Restaurants Association of Bhutan (HRAB) several times.

As hotels are no longer entitled work permits in these categories, hoteliers said they don’t have a choice but to bring in expatriates illegally, or hire those who were brought in illegally by other hotels, especially wet sweepers and laundry personnel. There are about 240 hotels and restaurants across the country today.

“We’ve proposed the labour ministry to look into the issue and requested for extension of work permit for foreign workers in these categories,” HRAB’s general secretary Sangeeta Rana said.

HRAB officials said high-end hotels also face issues in recruiting head of department posts like financial controller, security manager, IT manager, trainers and consultants, because Bhutanese are not yet ready to fill in those positions given the standard the FDI hotels need to maintain.

Sangeeta Rana said the labour ministry is bent on developing local talents and generate more local management posts for which the hotels require professional trainers. “For that, hotels are obliged to bring in more qualified trainers on a consistent basis to achieve the goals,” she said. “Hotels should be allowed to recruit expatriates to train staff and work for the hotel industry.”

Hoteliers said Bhutanese jobseekers were not wiling to perform most jobs available in the hospitality sector.  Most jobseekers, they said, were more interested in front desk and food and beverage department than housekeeping.

“Even in the hospitality training institutes, most Bhutanese opt for front desk and food and beverage departments,” another hotelier said.

A three-star hotel owner in Paro said it has been several weeks since he put up a requisition for an electrician with the ministry. He is yet to hear from the ministry. Even for managerial level jobs, he said, except for those with some experience in another hotel, not many Bhutanese were trained, owing to which most hotels still lacked professionalism today.

To address such issues, hoteliers said the labour ministry should issue work permits for expatriate workers for a certain time to train Bhutanese, so that Bhutanese can replace them once they are trained.

In August 2010, it was made mandatory for business enterprises like hotels, restaurants, electronic repair shops, tailoring shops, hair cutting saloons, bakery, smithery, shoe repair shop and pharmacies to employ expatriate workers only if no Bhutanese were available.  In such cases, the number of expatriate workers were restricted to five an establishment, at the most, with the condition that Bhutanese must replace them by 2012.

Labour secretary Pema Wangda said, after the regulation was enforced strictly, only few hoteliers came forward complaining that Bhutanese were not willing to take up these jobs.

“We’ve been dependent on expatriate workers for the past 50 years. For how long are we going to depend on them?” Pema Wangda said. “It’s time the hotels mechanise things.”

The labour secretary also said that with so many hotels now, they could not consider individual requests from each hotel. “Hotels also complain of job hopping being common among Bhutanese employees, which is mainly due to management issues,” he said. “They want the government to solve all the issues, which isn’t possible.”

By Kinga Dema