Choki Wangmo 

Foreign workers left the country in huge numbers due to Covid-19. Subsequently, the construction sector is left without adequate workers—skilled and unskilled. This gap is becoming bigger by the day.

An engineer with a construction company, Phub Dorji, said that with Bhutanese demanding higher wage, filling the gap was challenging.  “And the Bhutanese jobseekers lack the required skills, the work outcome is poor.”

The few remaining Indian workers so are paid more to complete the projects. And the workers, taking advantage of the situation are demanding more. Construction companies have increased the daily wage rate to Nu 600 from Nu 400.

Construction companies do not prefer Bhutanese workers for obvious reasons. They don’t want to work but get paid, and paid high.

“They don’t listen to instructions. Although we pay them higher wages, they make excuses and leave the job as and when they want,” said a manager of a construction company in Thimphu. Brawl and disagreements are common between employers and employees.

Phub Dorji said that due to shortage of labour in the market, the company had no choice but to hire the ones available even at higher rates. His company applied for 15 workers from the Build Bhutan Project (BBP) but did not get any.

BBP’s aim is to engage 7,000 Bhutanese workers over a period of two years, of which 2,000 will be provided with skilling, reskilling and upskilling opportunities in construction trades leading to national certification.

As of August last year, the project engaged 354 job seekers and, in November, Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that the workers enrolled in the project would be given a raise.

BBP was launched on July 2019 with a budget of Nu 1,040 million to address the shortage of workers in the construction sector.

Bhutanese jobseekers, Phub Dorji said, were not willing to work at the construction site even at the wage rate of Nu 800 a day.

Managing Director of Deyjung Construction said that the rates had to be increased drastically. A mason, today, is paid more than Nu 1,000.

The company has five construction sites with 40 Bhutanese workers.

Green Mountain Construction employed 40-50 Bhutanese workers for unskilled jobs. The company has been paying a minimum of Nu 1,000 a day for Bhutanese workers.

General Manager of Vajra Builders Private Limited, Sherab Chojay, however, said that the quality of work and workers’ efficiency depended on the company’s care and monitoring.