Yangyel Lhaden

The labour ministry’s decision to raise the wages for Build Bhutan Project (BBP) employees hangs in the balance with the ministry revisiting its decision as part of the plan to overhaul the employment scenario in the country.

The ministry is reviewing the whole project for a holistic approach to address issues Bhutanese face in the construction sector to make it more sustainable and ensure better facilities for the employees.

Layog Lyonpo (labour minister) Ugyen Dorji apologised that the pay raise could not happen as announced.  He said that the pandemic situation was improving which meant the economy would revive and recruiting foreign workers would be easier.

“The rolling out of vaccines reassured us that bringing in foreign workers wouldn’t be a big problem,” he said.

Lyonpo said that since the ministry’s announcement of the pay raise many changes occurred within the ministry.  A task force was formed to study and advise the ministry on recruiting foreign workers and the ministry is in the advance stage of introducing programmes to benefit individuals from all sectors including tourism.

“Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) program is also back with the ministry which is similar to BBP and our focus can’t only be for BBP,’’ Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo also said that the wage raise was an isolated intervention that could have done more damage than good if implemented.

“Skilling is the way forward and, with the pay raise, we wanted to attract more Bhutanese and go for skilling programmes. However, we can never replace foreign workers,” he said.

Since the pay raise was announced more than 1,800 Bhutanese registered with BBP.

Lyonpo said that the BBP would remain with or without the raise. “Skilling programmes would be in place which is expected to improve with TVET reform.”

Some employers in the construction sector earlier raised concerns about its sustainability once the program ends after two years.

Lyonpo said that it was one of many reasons the pay raise couldn’t materialise. “We did a thorough study and considered all the consequences but with the situation evolving we couldn’t do it.”

The two-year project began last year under the Economic Contingency Plan with budget outlay 1.04 billion to address foreign worker shortage and employ those who lost jobs.

The ministry announced the pay raise to motivate, inspire and encourage Bhutanese to work in construction sectors.  The low wage was one of the reasons that deterred Bhutanese from working in the construction sector.

Lyonpo said that employees of BBP could expect a better outcome from the review of BBP which may not be in wage structure but would address overall sustainability and issues employees faced.

“Pay raise was only one aspect,” he said.