Choki Wangmo

Informal sector workers such as street food and vegetable vendors, temporary workers in the export sector, home-based weavers and bakers are among those hit by the consequences of Covid-19.

Informal workers constitute 75 percent of the workforce in the country. They are private business entities or enterprises that do not have any signed employment contract.

Dharma Raj Sharma had been selling momo in Thimphu. In three years, his business hit the lowest within few months this year. He is worried.

Daily, Dharma Raj barely earns Nu 600 with 10-15 customers compared to Nu 2,500 with 50-60 customers in the past. He said that every day about 15 plates of momos remained unsold.

Working in the informal sector has got Rinchen (name changed) running from monitoring authorities who heavily fined him. For the past six months, he was driving around selling Bhutanese dishes to taxi and bolero drivers.

Rinchen said that since the outbreak of the pandemic, his customers had drastically dropped. “In the past, every day, there were 40 customers but now I don’t even get half the number.”

The vegetable vendors along the roads and highways have the same story to share. Dawa Dem sells fruits and vegetables along Thimphu-Paro highway. Within a month, her income dropped from Nu 7,000 per day to Nu 1,500 a day.

Vendors like Dawa Dem had spread themselves across different spots along the highway to attract customers coming from other places.

Similarly, Baker’s Basket, a home-based bakery, doesn’t receive a single order in a day. “I used to earn a minimum of Nu 7,000 in the past,” the founder Pem Dechen said.

Last month, handicraft stalls and porter and pony service providers to Taksang reported complete closure of the business due to the pandemic.

The situation of the vulnerable sector is expected to worsen. Most of the entities said that they were worried about their livelihood.

The World Bank report on Bhutan’s labour market found that informal labour was of particular concern as it is widespread among the general population and endemic in certain groups, such as individuals with low education, from rural areas, and from poor households.

The proportion of informal jobs is highest among workers with no schooling, at 93 percent. Informal labour is also closely related to poverty, the findings stated.

The government also pledged to formalise, legalise and support the informal sector who contributes to the economy.