Ministry withholds latest Labour Force Survey Report 

Although the labour and human resources ministry has completed the labour force survey for 2016 -2017, the ministry has not generated the report yet because of flaws that were pointed out after the survey.

Labour ministry officials claim that they need to review the findings of the 14th labour force survey report (LFSR).

The Department of Employment and Human Resources’ chief of employment services division, Ugyen Tenzin, said the technical team found lots of technical issues with the sampling, survey instruments, methodologies, and definition of employment.

He said they found the errors during a review. “When we tried to generate the result, we couldn’t retrieve it because of the error.”

While questioning the independence in reporting the scenario of employment of labour force surveys, the Royal Audit Authority did point out that the survey was done scientifically. The authority recommended the survey be conducted more than once to capture the actual labour market information.

Ugyen Tenzin said the ministry has decided that the 2016-2017 unemployment figure would be based on the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) 2017 since it’s a national census that has the exact questions on unemployment. “The PHCB survey is considered as 99 percent accurate.”

The LFSR is published every year and gives the current employment situation of the country apart from other indicators. The 13th nationwide LFSR published in 2015, found the overall unemployment rate at 2.5 percent. Youth unemployment rate was 10.7 percent and female unemployment rate was 12.7 percent. Kuensel learnt that the high youth unemployment figure was one of the flaws in the recent survey.

Ugyen Tenzin said they are also waiting for the Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2017 and the PHCB 2017 reports, which would also reflect the status of unemployment situation in the country.

He said since BLSS and PHCB were underway when they were reviewing the labour survey, the ministry decided that Bhutan couldn’t have three different unemployment surveys from different sources. “This would distort information, which would confuse people and policy makers on which data to refer.”

Ugyen Tenzin also said that it was neither the ministry nor any external pressure that asked them to not publish the report. “It was entirely based on the views and flaws pointed out by the technical team,” he said. The issues pointed out in the survey have been shared with the Cabinet.

The technical team comprises of members from education, labour and health ministries and the National Statistic Bureau. A team from the Centre for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness also reviewed the survey after the technical team pointed out the same drawbacks.

Ugyen Tenzin said they also had to take into consideration the Royal Audit Authority’s report that questioned the credibility of the survey and pointed various inadequacies. “We’re still reviewing the survey instruments and feel that we need to look into the methodologies for the next survey report.”

He said the ministry would also look into the international definition of employment to bring it into the local context and apply the definition that is applicable to Bhutan in the next survey. “For instance, according to the international definition, those above 15 years are considered employable while the Bhutanese Labour Act states 18 years and above to be employable. For the survey, we take 15 years and above.”

Section 175 of the Labour Act 2007, states that if a person works as a domestic servant in a home, which is not the home of the person’s immediate family or participates or assists in a business, trade, calling or occupation carried on for profit, a person is deemed to be employed whether or not he or she receives payment or other reward for his or her participation or assistance.

Ugyen Tenzin also said that the labour force sampling should have been used more in the rural areas because almost 60 percent of the labour force is in rural Bhutan. “But in the recent survey, most of the survey was conducted in urban places.”

He said if findings differ among the LFSR and the PHCB, it would mean that the labour force survey is inaccurate. However, if there were not much difference, the ministry would post the survey report online for reference but won’t be publishing it.

He said the ministry never conducted reviews for earlier survey reports. “But after receiving feedback from users on inconsistent reports, we reviewed it to have the correct employment scenario and to avoid losing public trust in the reports,” he said. They received feedback from researchers who refer the labour force report’s data for information and research.

The chief said that they would, however, conduct the survey report for 2018 with proper methodologies and samplings.

Meanwhile, former labour minister and opposition member, Dorji Wangdi said the methodologies couldn’t be questioned because it is based on the international practice, which has been followed since 1998 for the labour force survey report.

Dorji Wangdi said the survey procedure is first verified and approved by the National Statistic Bureau before it is conducted. “There was never an issue for earlier reports,” he said.

Yangchen C Rinzin

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