BBP workers waiting for the month to end

Yangyel Lhaden 

The weather is gloomy and cold. But the mood is bright as Sonam Dema and Sherab Lhamo, busy painting window rims of a six-storied building at Babesa, engages in discussing the salary raise.

Sonam Dema, a Build Bhutan Project (BBP) employee cannot believe the salary from this month would be Nu 25,500. “It is a huge amount. I will wait for the month end to believe,” she said. Sherab Lhamo cannot wait for the month to end. Before she joined BBP, Sherab used to work with a furniture house, which paid Nu 8,000. Six months ago, she joined BBP at Nu 13,500, which she still believes is a good salary.

The labour ministry on January 29 announced the new wage for BBP employees. The new wage will be rolled out by February.

The new wage ranges from Nu 25,200 for unskilled workers to Nu 32,000 for engineers with university degrees. Diploma engineers will be paid Nu 30,800, National certificate (NC3 master craftsperson) Nu 30,150 and NC2 (craftsperson) workers Nu 28,500.

Sherab Lhamo said that she felt she hit a jackpot by joining BBP. She said that the pay raise gave her enough motivation to work in this sector for a long time. “I am a single mother of two and the pay raise means better life and education for my children.”

Sonam Dema, 22 is a class 12 graduate and a laid-off employee due to the pandemic. She used to work in a hotel in Phuentsholing, which paid her Nu 8,000.  She said that from next month she would finally be able to send Nu 5,000 to her parents.

Sonam Dema and Sherab Lhamo have been working in the construction sector through a direct engagement scheme with BIEBS, a private company set up with help of BBP.

The two friends are looking forward to be in the sector for a long time and avail skills training or appear for a test for certificates through recognition of prior learning. “From February, we will earn more than university graduates and if we up-skill it gives us an opportunity to earn more,” Sonam Dema said.

The two women want to be masons.

At Changzamtog, five employees of BBP are working at a construction site. They are plastering steps, cutting and laying marbles, and filling tile spaces with white cement. They said that at the end of day what mattered was money and if the work paid them well, they have no qualms of the kind of work. “The pay raise cleared the boundary between blue-collar and white-collar jobs,” said one.  “I was shocked when I first saw the pay raise but I think we deserve it as working in the construction sector is physically challenging.”

Sangay Norbu, 29, another BBP employee said that he could see him getting old working with BBP. Sangay Norbu worked with various projects on contract before joining the BBP. He said that his friends had been calling him and asking about BBP when news of the pay raise became viral. “Many of my friends working in construction firms want to join BBP.”

Sangay Phuntsho is looking forward to calling his wife as he is planning to rent a place with the pay raise. “I am NC3, national certificate master craftsperson in plumbing which means I will get paid Nu 30,150,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sherab Lhamo has her plans at the end of the month. “My two children understand our situation and do not demand anything, but I will definitely treat them if I get the pay raise,” Sherab Lhamo said.