Labour laws complicate issues for some

Yangyel Lhaden

The Royal Bhutan Embassy (RBE) in Kuwait has started helping Bhutanese workers stranded in Kuwait, but some Bhutanese would have to fulfill the procedures to return home.

Ambassador Tshering Gyaltshen Penjor said those who could pay the penalty do not have to wait for three months but settlement process and cancellation of visas could take time due to Covid-19 lockdown. However, with intervention of the Embassy, the company has sped up the process for those who applied for resignation, and the Embassy has handed over the passport to Bhutanese during lockdown. “In some cases, the Embassy picked up passports from the companies and handed them over to Bhutanese at the airport,” said the Ambassador in an e-mail response routed through the foreign affairs ministry.

The Embassy has appointed 61 coordinators in various companies, two to three focal coordinators from each of Gulf Cooperation Council countries and wide network of social media group where the Ambassador and officers of Embassy are included. This is to facilitate interaction with the Bhutanese community and for better co-ordination especially due to Covid-19.

The Ambassador said that he took matters personally after receiving a list of 15 persons from Sultan Centre around mid-May. In Sultan Centre, employees who cancelled the contract were imposed penalties. “A concession could not be drawn since, Sultan Centre is a grocery store in full operation and employed over 2000 people from diverse nationality,” he wrote. “Human Resource Officer of Sultan Centre said that to consider for one nationality would result in similar resolution to rest.”

However, according to the Ambassador, Sultan Centre agreed to send Bhutanese home if they comply with resignation procedure of the contract. The company also agreed to adjust penalty against their final settlement if they did not have savings by working for one month and pay for two months.

Twenty seven Bhutanese out of 47 working in Americana Company in Bahrain tried to abscond without consenting their company which was liable for penalty of breach of contract. 

The Ambassador said that Americana Company was in full operation and Bahrain was not in drastic lockdown. “After such act there was little the RBE could do but to appeal for consideration to the company. The company complied with the request of the Embassy and agreed to send employees if they follow the due procedures.” They had booked tickets to return home

The Americana Company in Kuwait was not willing to send 170 Bhutanese without signing an undertaking to return. The Embassy intervened saying it was unfair after drastic cut in their salary and considering the current situation. The company agreed to send Bhutanese on leave or resignation without penalty.

However, according to the Ambassador, despite many efforts made by the Embassy, some issues were not being able to solve, for example, employees wanting to leave without penalty, and without three month prior notice in Sultan Centre, City Centre and Americana in Bahrain. “In some cases, Bakery House or Orion Companies in Kuwait would not even respond to phone call of Embassy and were not being co-operative,” he said.

As per Kuwait Labour Law, all employees, regardless of their level and years of service, have to pay penalty equivalent to three months of salary to resign immediately or give three months of notice, unless the company waives this. Smaller companies may do so on humanitarian grounds but larger companies are reluctant because they would need to extend the same to all nationalities.

Meanwhile, the RBE in Kuwait and the labour ministry are holding labour agents in Bhutan responsible to try and solve issues first. So far, City Centre issue has been solved by the agent in Bhutan.

The Ambassador said that the government was doing everything possible to facilitate the safe return of Bhutanese and in Kuwait there were 300 people in the waiting list. The Ambassador said they are giving priority to those terminated, without salary due to resignation or enforced vacation and medical cases.

“The RBE Kuwait assures to provide all possible support to the community in the Middle East and though all problems could not be solved, the Embassy assures the community at least have direct access to all officials of the Embassy by phone, social media and email to air their problems.”