Tshering Namgyal | Mongar

In line with establishing a new era of sustainable operations, Mountain Hazelnuts (MH), an FDI company, has retrenched 22 percent of staff in the company from today.

A total of 76 employees are being laid off, including staff who were on unpaid leave since June this year.

From the total of 325 staff, only 249 who are operationally “critical” for the 2021 harvest and preparing for orchard conversion have been retained.

The retrenched staff will however receive all the benefits as per the Service Rules of the Company, including one month’s basic pay in lieu of a one-month notice period at the time of retrenchment.

According to the company, it is helping the retrenched staff them to Build Bhutan Project and other organisations. It is also providing staff with counselling service, assistance with reference documentation, support in improving CVs and ensuring timely exit procedures.

According to Director of Human Resources & Administration, Yangchen Pelden, “As a result of streamlined operations, Mountain Hazelnuts will require less staff across most departments. In the field, we are incentivising increased grower ownership and responsibility, which means a reduced need for field staff supervision.”

Similarly, the scope of work across office, nursery and processing and facilities had been reduced after discontinuing tissue culture import, reduction in hazelnut saplings across our nurseries, and deferment of capital expenditure.

There will be continued distribution of appropriate saplings and gradual reduction in nursery operations as the number of saplings across all three nursery sites decrease.

Chairman of the company, Daniel Spitzer, commented: “On behalf of the entire team at Mountain Hazelnuts, I would like to express sincere admiration and gratitude to all of our colleagues who are leaving. These difficult adjustments are necessary to both preserve the value that has been established over the past decade and to ensure a bright future for hazelnuts in Bhutan. It is our sincere hope that we might be able to bring the staff we have been forced to retrench back to work should the situation permit in the future.

“While this was a difficult decision, I am confident that we have the best support schemes in place for our retrenched staff to bridge them through this transition, which is more than what most private companies usually do. For us, our staff are not just our employees, but our Hazay Family, and we have ensured fairness and compassion in taking this difficult decision.”

According to press release, the entire staff retrenchment procedure has been undertaken in close consultation with the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources.

While the pandemic has compounded existing challenges for Mountain Hazelnuts, the management team and stakeholders have taken the past three months to focus and refine company operations to ensure that it is sustainable and optimal for the future.

As a result of detailed deliberations, Mountain Hazelnuts will focus on optimising performance of the more than 11,000 hazelnut orchards it has helped establish in 19 dzongkhags, converting orchards below 2,400m to low chill-hour hazelnut varieties by grafting, as well as ensuring that orchards above 2,400m receive plantation of mature pollinizer varieties to fill the pollen gap.

The Company will also continue to ensure that orchards are well managed and cared for.

The Company has benefitted from more than USD 30 million international investment to date and is currently in active discussion with potential investors and financial institutions interested in supporting the business, according to MH officials.

While the company is optimistic about its funding prospects, press release said that timing is uncertain and it is, therefore, necessary to be prudent about when and how quickly to bring staff back to work.

“Based on encouraging results in many orchards, Mountain Hazelnuts is confident that hazelnuts have a sound biological foundation in Bhutan and are a viable long-term business, but additional time and investment is required,” stated the communiqué.

Edited by Jigme Wangchuk