The project could miss the 2023 deadline

Nima | Sarpang

The new Sarpang Dzong construction is facing a shortage of labourers; skilled workers from India could not be imported since the lockdown and the locals from nearby dzongkhags left home for farming.

There are only over 140 workers, 20 percent less than the required number of labourers for the project. The construction was on track until the start of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Project Manager, Sangay Kinga said that the pandemic hampered the work progress almost by 50 percent in the past four months. “We could get the required raw materials only by June. But, we are running short of skilled labourers now,” he said.

The project is trying to redeploy skilled labourers who decided to stay back in the country. “It’s difficult to hire workers because they want to return home. Bhutanese labourers are not skilled to do steelworks,” he said.

However, the project expects to ease the skilled labour shortage faced by many other bigger projects while building one of the most esthetic dzongs in the country.

Local labourers will build three out of 13 blocks as a part of the capacity building initiative of the project. This is expected to help local labourers gain skills required to work in reinforced concrete structures, especially the steelworks.

Most local labourers have a good experience in carpentry and mason works but lack the skills required in steelworks: forms and TNT rod works, which is the major part of the construction.

Sangay Kinga said a separate team consisting of all local workers is working on the Rabdey block. “They are doing the same scope of work done by the Indian labourers otherwise.  This is to avoid a similar situation in the future. We will have our own set of skilled labourers,” he said.

There are 15 local labourers involved in the project’s capacity building initiative to date.

However, the project is struggling to retain experienced and skilled labourers. The workers leave once they become skilled for other jobs that pay better wages.

“Retaining is difficult without any benefit. They are given better benefits in private construction but in culture projects, benefits are less and have to work for a longer period,” said the project manager.

The project workers are paid Nu 215 to Nu 486 per day with a Zorig Chusum allowances for the skilled labourers.

Sangay Kinga said if the lockdown continues the project will not be able to bring in skilled workers. “It would be difficult to meet the deadline. We are not able to work as planned during monsoon,” he said.

However, the project plans to recover its lost progress in winter when the weather is favourable for all sorts of construction works.

The project that began in 2017 has a deadline to complete by 2023.

The construction of new Sarpang Dzong is 36 percent complete and has spent over 41 percent of the total budget. The estimated budget of the project is Nu one billion.