Choki Wangmo

Shortage of labour and disruption in raw material supply has resulted in slow-down in labour-intensive sectors such as construction and real estate.

Since the borders were sealed in early March, new expatriate labourers from the neighbouring states of India couldn’t be brought in while those who left on break are stranded. The sector is short of skilled and semi-skilled workers while construction materials are running out.

Traders in Thimphu and Phuentsholing have reported a surge in demand for construction materials, but said they are not able to meet the demand.

Labour Minister Ugyen Dorji said that although the tourist restriction had no direct impact on the construction sector, the restriction imposed on recruitment of foreign workers has highly impacted the domestic requirement of workers in the construction sector.

As of now, there are 28,363 foreign workers in the country.

A landlord in Thimphu, whose construction is on hold, said that when the construction is delayed for a longer period of time, the already built structures such as walls gets destroyed, therefore, incurring extra cost.  The technical graduates within the country, another builder said, are engaged in other construction sites. “It is hard to get skilled workers such as plumbers and electricians.”

A construction company, Vajra Builders, announced vacancies for 50 labourers, but only 20 turned up.

As an immediate intervention to help the construction sector continue the affected works, the labour ministry in discussion with the immigration department had facilitated redeployment of the existing foreign worker in the country from one employer to another upon completion of their construction works. This was not allowed in the past.

As most of the Bhutanese don’t want to work in the construction sector due to poor and unsafe working conditions, the ministry has also been encouraging the implementation of pension fund to those working in the private sector and ensuring compensation system. “These are essential to protect the workers,” Lyonpo said.

According to Lyonpo, the ministry was encouraging the provision of high wages and mechanising the ways of doing things – such as using labour-saving equipment, powered tools, and also improving the campsite facilities. It is expected to encourage people to join and continue in the construction sector.

At the Meet the Press last week, Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, said that the labour ministry had proposed Nu 300 million to implement a construction stimulus plan.

Meanwhile, a group of unskilled young Bhutanese led by a skilled foreign labourer for the past month has been going around providing plumbing and tiles services to construction sites in Thimphu.

Depending on the size of the infrastructure, their service charge ranges from Nu 4,000 to 30,000.

Lyonpo said, the ministry was also working on a project that caters to the needs of aforementioned initiative. Through the dual training programme, trainees learn skills on the job and at the institute.

However, the organiser said that with a shortage of construction materials, they did not recruit more Bhutanese as most of the works are stopped.