Workers often work from 9am to 2am to avoid the damage to oranges
Nima | Gelephu
While most workers left, those working at orange depots in Gelephu are unsure of how much they would earn at the end of the season.
The exporters have agreed to pay Nu 45 a box for grading, packing, and loading when they were recruited in December.
The export of orange is expected to end in a month or two and most of the oranges are being rejected at the depots. The oranges are held for a day at Gelephu because of the labour shortage.
The workers work from 9am till midnight to avoid damage to the fruit. However, many are worried if the exporters would pay them accordingly by the end of the export season.
Rinchen Zangmo from Gelephu has been grading and packing orange for two months now. She is one of the two workers the ministry of labour office in Gelephu deployed.
“We would like to know how much we would be given by now. The export is almost ending. Sometimes we were told we’d be given Nu 20 per box and sometimes Nu 25. Nothing is fixed for now,” she said.
She added that grading and packing are the most difficult task. “We don’t get to rest properly. Loading and nailing the boxes are easier,” said Rinchen Zangmo.
A grader or a packer could finish 40 boxes at the most despite working late into the night. This means a worker could earn only Nu 800.
Workers said that with the depots operating in a containment mode, the exporters were mandated to provide meals and logistic supports.
However, they said that the exporters did not provide them with anything. The rice and cooking oil provided to date were listed in their names. But, some exporters had been providing the workers with rice and other essentials.
“They could deduct the expense from our wages at the end. We were told that the food and lodging would be given but nothing is sure now,” said Champa Rai, another worker.
A depot manager, Chitra Bdr Ghallay said that the exporters would be paying the same rate for workers at the end after the export is completed. However, the rate varies from one exporter to another today.
Some exporters said they paid Nu 50 per box for grading and packing, which is more than what was promised earlier.
Regional secretary with Bhutan Chamber for Commerce and Industry, Kelzang said the floor price for loading, unloading, grading, and packing were decided at Nu 40 per box and later increased to Nu 45 after the workers complained of low rates.
“It is on the exporters to divide the rate among graders, packers, and loaders according to the nature of the work. There are some who pay more than the floor price,” he said.