Lhakpa Quendren 

While public and corporate employees have been receiving salary increases over the past year, private sector employees have been out despite many being underpaid.

Executive officials are overpaid compared to their public and corporate sector counterparts. The lower-level employees in the latter sectors are hugely underpaid.

Many say that a lack of policy support and job-stability aggravate their financial insecurity.

Not long ago, a group of private employees, all university graduates, left the office en masse because they were not paid for about eight months straight. The labour ministry did not look into their problems despite filing repeated complaints.

Dorji, who works with a private organisation in Thimphu, said that he has not been paid for a year.

Dechen Lhaden worked with a private company in Thimphu for over three years on Nu 5,000 monthly salary.

“I had to quit and leave for the Middle East. There was no way I could survive further,” she said.

What is MoICE doing?

Department of Labour says that the issue should be viewed from multiple angles.

“We have to consider whether the employers are in the position to pay as expected by the workers. The Covid-19 situation has affected many enterprises and they are still trying to recover,” an official from the department said.

The department has a grievance redressal mechanism which gets more than 80 percent cases related to non-payment of wages.

“Depending upon the cases, we impose penalty on the employers or mediate and settle the non-payment issues,” the official said.

Section 176 of the Labour and Employment Act of Bhutan 2007 allows the workers of an enterprise of 12 or more workers employed under the contract of employment to form a workers’ association to represent their interests, especially to negotiate or bargain for their wages in good faith.

An official said that the government cannot order private firms to pay their employees more. “How much the private employees will get paid will be determined by the profitability of the firms, and many other factors would affect the profitability of the firms.”

The ministry is working on reviewing the National Minimum Wage (NMW) and National Workforce wage rate considering the current situation of the private and corporate sectors such as profits and losses, employers’ expenditure and other factors.

“A slight increase in the NMW might affect the overall profitability of the firms and enterprises, which in turn might force them to retrench their staff, leading to the situation of unemployment,” an official said.