Despite laws being in place, due compensation is seldom paid without labour ministry prodding

Labour: Thimphu thromde will have to compensate the municipal worker, who died on duty on April 1, in line with the labour laws, say labour ministry officials.

Municipal worker Amrit Bdr Rai, 73, was killed near Deki School, Changzamtog, when a wall collapsed and buried him under.  He was cleaning the drain when the mishap occurred.

Claiming that they were not aware of the compensation as per labour laws, thromde officials initially decided to pay the family Nu 10,000 as compensation.  However, the labour ministry intervened, and his family is now entitled to about Nu 220,000.

But many workers aren’t compensated, despite an increase in injuries and trauma every year.  Only those reported to the labour ministry get compensated.

In 2013, health facilities across the country recorded 29,303 work-related injuries and trauma, the annual health bulletin states.  A majority of them occur in the construction sector.

Such instances continue to occur, even as labour officials continue to enforce occupational health and safety at workplaces.

Labour protection division officials said, although the laws mandated it, most organisations or employees failed to report mishaps at workplaces. “Whenever we hear about any accidents, we investigate and make sure that affected employees are compensated,” labour officer, Choki Tashi said.

From July 2013 to August last year, the division recorded 34 deaths, among which nine were Bhutanese and the rest non-Bhutanese employed by Indian hydropower contractors.  The division, however, doesn’t have records on reported work-related mishaps.

Labour officials said most organisations were aware of the labour laws in ensuring work safety but only a few complied. “As an organisation with a huge mandate and one that employs hundreds of people, it’s surprising that thromde officials aren’t aware of the regulations,” Choki Tashi said. “Thromde will also have to produce the receipts to prove that the compensation has been paid.”

Poor reporting system and employees fearing repercussion from employers are cited as reasons on why most cases aren’t reported. “We urge all the government, corporate and private agencies to report any accidents at workplaces, be it major or minor,” Choki Tashi said. “Some have been doing it but most don’t.”

Inspections of workplaces are carried out once a year and, if found to have violated any of the regulations, organisations are given a week to 35 days to rectify the working condition.

Labour law states that, in case of death, an employer has to pay a worker’s compensation of a minimum of 1,080 days of the national minimum wage, and 70 percent of a month’s wage for a year.  An injured employee is entitled to 70 percent of basic wage, which the employer shall continue to pay until the employee is able to return to work, or for a period of five years.  All medical expenses are also to be borne by the employer.

An employer, who contravenes these regulations, is liable to a fourth degree felony.  If mishaps at workplaces are not reported, an employer is liable for a fine of Nu 36,000.

If an employer or an organisation is not wiling to compensate their worker, a court case is filed. “They own up ultimately and pay in line with the regulations,” Choki Tashi said.  Recently, a death case in Trashigang was solved through a court case, after the employer refused to pay the compensation initially.

Labour law also mandates insurance for all workers, irrespective of the jobs they perform.  However, officials said, except for the Indian hydropower contractors, where their workers are insured both in Bhutan and India, most Bhutanese agencies don’t adhere to it.

“Our motive is compliance and not to penalise companies, but when they don’t comply, we don’t have a choice but to penalise them,” he said.

An industrialist in Pasakha, Phuentsholing said ensuring a worker’s safety while on duty was the organisation’s responsibility.  However, he said, implementation of labour rules differed from one company to another, just like its compliance rate. “There are those who comply and are made to comply more, while some companies don’t comply at all and no one bothers.”

Meanwhile, Amrit Bdr Rai’s nephew said the family has to date received Nu 52,000 as semso (payout for death.)

By Kinga Dema