Ministry of Labour and Human Resources rejects their request to import expat workers

Nima | Gelephu

The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) rejected a proposal from mandarin exporters in Gelephu to import skilled labourers from India, leading to exporters worrying that they will face a labour shortage for packing and grading mandarins this season.

Initially, the ministry approved their request, and exporters have also paid an advance of about Nu 80,000 to book workers from India.

However, the approvals were later reversed on November 4.

Mandarin export from Gelephu is expected to begin by December.

Exporters also requested approvals to bring representatives from Bangladesh importers to inspect the packing and avoid unnecessary rejection of goods in the export market.

Officials monitoring the export in Gelephu said that having representatives from Bangladesh importers would make export convenient, as they physically inspect the goods.

A visit from importer representatives was facilitated last year.

Exporters claimed that since mandarins are perishable, they have to be packed immediately and shipped as quickly as possible. “While the ultimate aim is to deploy local workers, they need to gain the required skills,” an exporter said.

There are currently seven exporters in Gelephu, and the ministry had initially approved at least 10 workers from India per exporter. An exporter usually needs at least 30 workers for grading, packing, and loading for more than three months.

With the pandemic sealing the border gate, exporters from Gelephu employed more than 70 youth and working mothers last year, helping them earn at least Nu 70,000 within three months.

However, exporters struggled to clear orange stocks that were reaching the depot in the peak season. The products couldn’t fetch expected rates in the export market because of lapses in grading and packing, according to the exporters.

An exporter from Gelephu, Nirmal Chhetri, said that it would be difficult to get the required labours as the export season is near. “The youth who worked in the depot were not willing to work this time. We are applying for expat labourers to ensure quality packing. Local workers don’t know the basics of grading.”

He said that it would be a good opportunity for local workers to learn from the experienced workers. “It was difficult to work last year. There were several problems.”

Some exporters have paid more than Nu 100,000 as an advance for the workers.

The exporters have approached that Bhutan Export Association (BEA) regarding the matter, and have also sought support from the dzongkhag administration.

Exporters also claimed that it was unfair not to allow them to bring in foreign workers while construction and other sectors were allowed to bring in foreign workers.

An exporter, Mandan Oli, said that it would make export more convenient to be approved as soon as possible.

“We are planning to start the export by December. We won’t be able to get experienced and skilled workers. Grading and packing, if not done properly, affect the rate in the market. Allowing us to bring at least 10 would help us conduct the export better,” he said. “Local workers were not so reliable.”

An official from the BEA, Guru Wangchuk, said exporters applied to bring in the workers from India after the MoLHR approved 10 foreign workers each for the exporters.

“The ministry cancelled the application at the last moment, asking the exporters to deploy Bhutanese workers. It’s a good opportunity for the youth but they are not so efficient,” he said.

He added that the ministry also issued a notification stating that the exporters would be allowed to bring in expat workers. “It is an opportunity to build the capacity of our local workers,” said the official.

Mandarins worth more than Nu 182 million were exported to Bangladesh last year. Despite the repeated lockdown, exporters from Gelephu were able to export over 600 trucks of oranges in 2020.