Construction and service sector affected the worst

Choki Wangmo

The labour ministry is compiling the list of shortage of workers in different sectors to fill in the gap left by foreign workers after the two-week restriction on entry of foreigners in the country.

By the end of this week, the ministry would finalise the data and come up with a concrete plan to go forward.

Most of the construction works in Thimphu are halted or only few Indian labourers are seen working at the site. A construction owner in Babesa, Thimphu said that she received calls from the labour ministry asking if she would be interested in recruiting skilled but unemployed Bhutanese at her construction site to replace the Indian labourers until the tourist ban is lifted.

Her 14 labourers from neighbouring Falakata in India were stranded after they left on winter break. The owner has not decided to recruit waiting for details on payment and skill level of the workers.

Vajra Builder, a private construction company also received similar inquiries from the labour ministry. More than 100 Indian labourers who work for the company are stranded due to the travel restriction.

The chief human resource officer of the company, Sherab Chojay, said the company decided to recruit about 50 Bhutanese to replace the Indian labourers. “To reduce impact on the progress of our work, the company decided to recruit the workers,” he said, adding that the company is also open to proposals from the labour ministry.

The company has 250 construction workers from which about more than half are Indians.

At a press conference yesterday, the health minister, Dechen Wangmo, said that as the immediate impact of the outbreak is on the service industry, the government is trying to fill in gaps with people who are laid off to minimise the impact.

Meanwhile, Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) is compiling details of employees in hotels and restaurants in the country. The details of the individuals would be used to engage the employees meaningfully with their skills till the impact of COVID-19 cools off.  “COVID-19 has had a huge impact on tourism. So the impact could go on till the end of 2020,” the announcement posted on Facebook stated.

The chairman of HRAB, Sonam Wangchuk, said that the association is working on an action plan and discussions were underway with the Tourism Council of Bhutan and Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We are concerned because if the service industry collapses, it will have major impact on the country’s economy,” Sonam Wangchuk said.

Similarly, the Guides Association of Bhutan is encouraging tour guides to take up any work, including manual should the situation plummet and the ban is extended. “Other than guiding, some of us have teaching experience, some have undergone vocational training, and some can work in the health sector. Any economically gainful activity would be a huge respite for us in the worst case scenario.”

Last week, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering announced that the government could continue the restriction on all incoming tourists due to global situation.

The country incurred an estimated loss of USD 2.2 million so far since the ban came into effect.