Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

Small service sector businesses in Phuentsholing are finding it difficult to manage their daily businesses because of a lack of skilled workers. After foreign workers left following the border closure, many businesses are finding it difficult to hire help.

The owner of a café and bakery in town, Ugyen Dhoendrup, said the workers he has right now are planning to leave.

“They want to move to low-risk areas,” he said. “But we have to keep the shop running.”

Ugyen said the repeated lockdowns have already affected business and people in Phuentsholing. Without skilled workers, the businesses in the service sector like his are hit the hardest, he added.

The businessman also said that there are Bhutanese workers across the country, but they are not willing to come to Phuentsholing to work. Bhutanese workers are also demanding high salaries and they don’t give the employers the required security, he said.

“I have written to the labour office but haven’t been able to recruit anyone,” Ugyen Dhoendrup said, adding that he needs about four to five skilled people to work in his restaurant and bakery.

A hotel owner, Pema, said it is difficult to get Bhutanese workers, as they are asking for higher salaries.   

“Although we are ready to pay them, they are not as skilled as foreign workers,” he said. “In fact, there are not many people in this sector.”

These days, even the dishwashers have to be used as cooks, he said.

Pema said he has also asked the labour office about recruitment, but not a single person has come their way.

Today, Pema is making do with three staff members. He needs about six more.

Restaurant owner Sonam Penjor, meanwhile, has decided to sell his restaurant located in the heart of the town.

“We find workers but they ask for too much as a salary,” he said. “We cannot work at such high rates.”

Employers said a cook is asking about Nu 20,000 these days. With the business already hit, this is too much, they said. Even if they are ready to pay up, the Bhutanese recruits are not as skilled. Despite many restaurants and hotels offering free food and lodging, there are no takers.

After the closure of the gate on March 23, 2020, hundreds of daily workers from across the border left Phuentsholing, leaving the local businesses in turmoil. From loading to cleaning, Bhutanese youths have come to the forefront. However, due to repeated lockdowns, many have left Phuentsholing.