… project announced 580 vacancies, only 18 applied

Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

Of 408 locals recruited to replace Indian workers at Punatsangchhu Hydroelectric Project II (PII), 84 have left as of yesterday.

PII management recruited locals in phases beginning in October last year. Tengye Lyonpo (economic affairs minister), Loknath Sharma personally called upon the youth to respond to what he said was the “call of the nation” and work for the projects.

Almost all Bhutanese recruits joined Jaiprakash Associates Limited (Jaypee Group), a construction company working with PII. According to project officials, another 60 didn’t turn up for work and 24 were on leave yesterday.

While nearly 2,000 people registered when the PII management first called for Bhutanese workers without any experience and qualifications, many later left the work for various reasons.

Karma Phuntsho, who has been employed for the past two months, said that the lack of Bhutanese dishes in the menu was a challenge.

He added that during the briefing, Bhutanese dish was promised but there had been no changes despite complaints.

Others point out that the incentives around Nu 4,000, which was supposed to be added to their monthly wage Nu 13,750 were not provided.

Tandin Phub, 20, left work on January 25. He worked for two months. Unlike a few who left for better opportunities, Tandin left because of intense work without proper rest, food and lack of incentives.

In an earlier interview with Kuensel, PII Managing Director Amresh Kumar said that a maximum of Nu 4,000 incentive was being discussed. The incentive, however, was subject to the worker’s attendance at work. They work from 8am until 8pm. 

Jaypee Group Project Manager KK Sood said that the payment was made for October month and payments for November would be soon made.  However, there are no plans to change the menu. 

“Many are planning to leave as soon as the movement to Paro and Thimphu is allowed. But I think if the menu is improved then many would choose to stay,” Karma Phuntsho said.

A 27-year-old man working at the PII dam site said that workers were fed puri (fried Indian bread) with tea for breakfast, mostly potato curry and rice for lunch. “They did suggest we take rice from the mess and cook curry for ourselves. But that means extra expenditure and it will be difficult to manage time.” 

The workers pay Nu 1,000 monthly for mess food.

However, changing the entire menu also becomes an issue for the expatriate workers with Jaypee Group. 

Of the 1,900 workers working with Jaypee Group, only 240 are Bhutanese. “It will also become a problem for Indian workers. And in our mess, we don’t cook non-vegetarian dishes,” KK Sood said.

Although cooking in rooms was against rules, KK Sood said that Bhutanese were allowed to cook.

With massive outflow of the expatriate workers and locals unwilling to work for long, the project contractor is facing problems. The company had more than 3,800 workers in February last year which has reduced by half today.

Jaypee Group is constructing the dam and powerhouse complex of PII.

KK Sood said that work was being affected. Today, efforts to bring Indian workers were also underway.

He said that although the labour ministry had approved for more than 300 Indian workers to be brought in for work, lack of enough quarantine facilities had halted the process. All workers enter through Phuentsholing.

Between January 17-23, 25 Indian workers came to Bhutan. “And between 24th and 30th, we’ve been given permission to bring in 10 more. There are 60 people waiting in Siliguri in hotels and we only have permission to bring 10,” KK Sood said.

The construction company in efforts to recruit Bhutanese workers also announced 580 vacancies on January 19, of which 400 were for unskilled workers. Others include welder, driller, bar binder, and carpenter. However, as of January 26, only 18 applied.