…mechanisation is yet to pick up

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

After undergoing the Covid-19 test, 75 loaders left their job at the Mini Dry Port (MDP) in Phuentsholing yesterday.

With 35 loaders who left the work on January 20, 110 loaders have left MDP now, as a private firm, Dhendup Enterprise, takes full charge of the loading, unloading and transshipment works.

However, Dhendup Enterprise, which was supposed to mechanise the works after MDP was outsourced to them on December 15 last year through a tender, has recruited 60 new loaders.

There were big plans and benefits expected when the mechanisation was initiated on December 15, 2020, but it did not work as expected. And just three days after the firm started the mechanised system, it failed to deliver the expected services.

The company then recruited 34 former MDP loaders but they quit the job. Vehicles importing goods were heavily disrupted and importers were impacted.

On December 18 last year, MDP loaders who had quit were again requested to come back and work independently until Dhendup Enterprise had a smooth transition to mechanisation. Prior to the outsourcing, 146 loaders worked at the MDP.

With this period over now, the former loaders were asked to leave so that Dhendup Enterprise could take full charge but with the enterprise again recruiting new loaders, former loaders are questioning the mechanisation initiative.

A loader, Sonam Wangchuk said he did not see any mechanisation at the MDP.

“When the pandemic started, loaders took the risk to work at MDP,” he said.  

“Now people know loaders are earning and that’s why there is interest from private individuals.”

Another loader, Sonam Tshering, 43, a former tour operator said he would understand if the mechanisation succeeded.

“We are thrown out of work but the private firm is recruiting new workers,” he said, adding it is hard to believe he will again have to look for work.

“I came to work at the MDP when the nation needed most.”

Sonam Tshering also said while the idea of mechanisation was good, officials have to come to the field and check practically.

He said he worked in the tourism sector for 18 years but the pandemic rendered him jobless.

“My wife worked as chef but she also lost her job due to the pandemic.”

The former tour operator said they have three children, who are studying in class XII, IX and V.

“I worry about them.”

Meanwhile, Dhendup Enterprise’s managing director said he was “stupid and foolish” to assume that the mechanisation would work immediately after he took over the MDP.

“I had not even conducted a trial run,” he said. “And the ground reality was different. I was unrealistic.”

The managing director also said that it will take at least six months to mechanise and bring its real benefit.

“The MDP can be mechanised at least 60 percent,” he said.

“The challenge is the imported goods are not designed for machines. About 99 percent of the goods are designed for manual handling. We have to modify and change to suit the requirements.”

There are four forklifts, a container lifter, and a conveyor belt at the MDP today. Forklifts and the lifter belongs to the MDP and has been leased to Dhendup Enterprise, while the conveyor belt has been installed by the enterprise.

The managing director said the firm is bringing in more equipment such as three more conveyor belts, a gantry crane and a forklift. With this inclusion, there will be four to five forklifts, four conveyor belts, a gantry crane and one container lifter.

He claimed he gave preference to the former workers to take up the job but they refused it, saying they cannot be “used and thrown.”

“We told them we can keep 60 people from 110 but it didn’t work,” the managing director said.

He said he offered Nu 1,600 per day but because these loaders are used to earning Nu 2,000 to Nu 4,000 per day, they don’t want to work with them.

“Some wanted to join us but others who don’t are influencing them as well.”

He said he did a case study wherein his new loaders did a transshipment job at Nu 2,900, while the existing loaders charged Nu 9,000 for the same job.

“Due to the experience of nine months, the former loaders are much efficient.”

Loaders, however, claimed they could not take the work as they were offered Nu 1,000 per day.


Opposition’s appeal

the Opposition Leader Dorji Wangdi yesterday wrote to the government pertaining to this issue.

“The issue of retrenchment of the employees in particular has come as a matter of surprise and concerns for us. This group stepped forward to serve the nation during the most critical time of the pandemic, seriously risking their lives,” he said in a letter to the Prime Minister.

“The fact that the first community transmission broke out from MDP leading to the first national lockdown speaks for itself about the grave risks they took. Further, this is the only source of livelihood for them and their families.”

The opposition leader also provided some suggestions to the government.

The letter stated that the government “immediately intervene and ensure that those willing are retained till the end of pandemic or till such time they find alternative sources of employment.”

It also called to make transparent to the public about the modalities, terms and conditions of outsourcing and the obligations and implications to the government in future.