The employees have submitted a petition to the labour ministry to investigate the company’s decision

Aggrieved by the decision of their employer to retrench them on May 3, 67 employees of Scan Café at Thimphu TechPark submitted a petition to the labour ministry yesterday.

The employees submitted six points to the ministry stating that even after working hard for the company for almost five years, they were terminated without notification.

Although the contract agreement mandates two months notification before relieving the employees, the employees claimed that they did not receive any notification but was informed that they were terminated.

“We’ve families to look after and loans to repay. How would we survive without a job?” their petition states. “We are submitted the petition to the ministry with the hope that they would investigate and look into our appeal.”

The letter also stated that the company made them sign the a letter after work and only then did they know about the company’s decision to retrench employees.

“If the company is not doing good then why only few of us are terminated? This is not fair and the ministry should thoroughly investigate,” the petition states.

It also stated that the company had earlier informed that it would retrench employees from one unit only but later employees from other units were also retrenched.  “But some are still working at the same unit, which means the decision to retrench is biased,” the petition states.

Scan Café’s director-operations, Ramendara Narayan said the company had to take the decision because of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which would come into affect from May 25.

“GDPR is a new law passed in January this year in European Union (EU) and this has made the company lose the European clients,” Ramendara Narayan said. “Whichever company is dealing with export of private data of EU citizens out of the country will have to comply with the GDPR by May 25.”

A US-based company, Scan café that digitalises, edits, and organises photos and videos employs the highest number of Bhutanese employees. The company currently employs about 400 Bhutanese.

The GDPR is a new privacy regulation that requires companies to take unambiguous consent from individuals of the EU for their data, explicitly mentioning its use, and giving people the option to revoke the consent any time.

The director-operation said that Scan Café also has clients in Europe that help export data to Scan Café in Bhutan. But now that they have to comply with GDPR, the company decided to retrench the employees as it has lost the EU clients.

“We had to accordingly take the call and decided to retrench employees after discussing with the labour ministry,” he said. “We had to also take a decision because if we don’t comply with the GDPR, the penalty is huge where we’ve to pay four percent of the total global annual revenue.”

He said that these relieved 67 employees are the ones that directly or indirectly deal with the European clients and the decision were taken only for those that had direct impact on the European clients. No units were closed as claimed, he said.

On notifying the employees, Ramendara Narayan, said that the employees had misunderstood because the company had informed them on May 3 that they would be relieved after two months with two months gross salary (including 100% performance incentives) in lieu of notice period plus all other separation benefits as per the company service rules.

“Yet, I am keeping them for two months without having to come to the work with advance pay so that they could look for other jobs,” he said. “This is like a notice period and they’ve to anyway leave after two months. Maybe they didn’t understand the concept we used.”

He claimed that all the decision was taken after they had a discussion with the labour ministry. It was also based on the labour Act’s clause number 68 on notification period for termination of a contract employment and clause 91(b) on redundancy.

They would be receiving all the benefits more than the minimum required under the labour Act and company’s service book, he said.

“These 67 employees were retrenched based on the performance in the last eight months and those that were kept were the top performers.”

Most employees have served for one to two years, and a few for more than three years.

“We don’t have any options but have to also look for the company too. This was not a sudden decision although we informed them on May 3 but we have been working on this for more than a week.”

Meanwhile, TechPark’s chief executive officer, Tshering Cigay Dorji, said this has not affected Scan Café’s operational continuity in Bhutan nor do they have plans to reduce the amount of space leased at the TechPark.

“They’re hopeful that they can expand their business further in Bhutan in future. Scan Cafe has promised to give the affected employees first preference in case new openings come up in the future including the labour ministry.”

The labour ministry is yet to look into the petition submitted by the employees.

Yangchen C Rinzin