Notwithstanding the controversies surrounding the now infamous Learn and Earn programme, there is some development the youth in Japan could look forward to.
The government’s intervention in providing a grace period for the youth in repaying their loans could ease the pressure on them. Many parents had wished such intervention since they started repaying the loans.
The government has come under a lot of criticism. There is a lot of expectation from the government to the point that parents and observers are convinced that the government is not doing enough.
There is a case filed against the agency and pressure on the labour ministry to take actions against its officials. In the meantime, there is also a belief that the controversy, getting out of hand, is going to damage the relations between the two countries.
The issue can be looked from many perspectives. The two governments are not involved in the programme. It is at the level of two business agents. Japan needed workers. Bhutanese needed jobs. It was a perfect match.
Not all students had problems. Perhaps, they were better at handling stress. But when a student took his own life and the rest started talking about the stress, the unfair treatment and the exploitation, it became a bigger issue.
The programme is well intended. If it went well, there wouldn’t be controversies. Bhutan needs many programmes like this. The government cannot provide jobs to all youth. The pressure will keep increasing. Overseas employment programmes are creating differences in many lives. For the government, it is a good source of remittance.
Bhutanese will want to work outside. It promises a better future for the average Bhutanese. However, working abroad is difficult. Workers are vulnerable to exploitation and maltreatment. It is here where governments are needed to intervene.
The present government could have washed their hands off if they wanted to, saying they didn’t want to clean the mess created by the previous government. They did not and should not. The labour ministry was involved right from the beginning and it is their responsibility to clean it.
We have learnt a lesson, even if it is the hard way. The government should intervene. One way is to ask agencies involved like the ACC and the OAG to speed up their investigations. The other way could be scrutinising employment agencies before licensing them or banning them if found exploiting workers.
The Japanese government announced that it would need 300,000 blue-collar foreign workers over the next five years to help tackle labour shortages. It is a good scope for Bhutan. Given the good relations between the two countries, we could see more Bhutanese leaving for Japan.
The recent incident, if not tackled sensitively and professionally, is not going to leave a good impression of Bhutanese jobseekers. And it will hamper thousands who are mulling to board the plane to Japan.