Phurpa Lhamo | Wangdue

A basic skills learner labourer at the Wangdue construction, today earns Nu 421 a day. This is an increase from Nu 351 as Zorig chusum allowance (skills allowance) since August.

The government approved the revised allowance as finding workers and retaining them at the Wangdue dzong reconstruction project became increasingly difficult.

Similarly, wages increased from Nu 457 per day from Nu 381 for grade three workers; Nu 515 from Nu 429 for grade two workers; and Nu 583 from Nu 486 per day for grade one workers. Workers of the three grades vary in their level of skills.

Until August this year, workers were entitled to 50 percent Zorig chusum allowance, which now has been increased to 80 percent. The Zorig chusum allowance was last reviewed in October 2015.

According to Project Director Kinley Wangchuk, for casual labourers (unskilled workers) who aren’t entitled to Zorig chusum allowance, daily wage has been increased to Nu 280 from Nu 215.

He added that in addition to the increase in the allowance, unskilled workers were eligible to be promoted to category four within three to six months’ provision period.

“Earlier it took around one or two years.”

The provision period is to monitor a worker’s working ethics, sincerity, and their capabilities. “We cannot judge a worker in the beginning. Some just work in the beginning and then stop coming to work,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Despite the revision, the pay is still less compared to what is offered at private construction sites.

A grade one worker, who receives a revised pay of Nu 583 a day at the project would get more than Nu 700 working at a private firm.

However, a mason at the project, Chador said that with free accommodation from the project and the increased pay, the benefits were almost equal.

He added that at the project, employees didn’t work during government holidays. The workers also didn’t have to bear travel expenses as their camps were near the project site.

“Workers have been requesting a pay raise for a while. Now many workers who left earlier also want to return,” Chador said.

With the increase in pay, the project management had also requested for increments for employees with more than 10 years experience.

Kinley Wangchuk said that increment of Nu 50 per day for workers with more than 10 years experience, Nu 150 for those with 20 years experience and Nu 300 for those with 30 years experience were proposed. However, the Cabinet didn’t approve the proposal.

The workers at the project are not entitled to pension or provident fund after retirement.

“When the project completes, workers have to leave with their last month’s pay to look for another work,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

Today, the project has recruited five new workers.

With the completion of the ground floor of the middle courtyard, the project is expected to find more work. Hence, the project will announce additional 30 vacancies.

The project has spent Nu 726 million (M) of Nu 1 billion budget and completed around 77.5 percent of the construction work.

Despite the lockdown, work at the project began on August 26 with the project following Covid-19 health safety protocols.

The project director said that the project had already secured hardware materials, and raw materials like mud, timber and stones.

He added that the hardware materials, which were imported, would last until December this year.

Today, project management has asked the Department of Culture to secure additional hardware materials.

While stones and mud for construction would last until the completion of the project, work to secure timber from Bumthang is in progress. “Supply of timber is ready from Chamkhar, Bumthang,” Kinley Wangchuk said.

The project is expected to complete in 2022 if work continues without hindrance.