The National Work Force (NWF) in the country was established in the 1960s. Fast forward to this day after about six decades, the national work force with the Department of Roads continues to maintain our roads. The DoR is seen employing roadside workers across the length and breadth of the country at the rate of one man per kilometre for road maintenance.

Today, it is estimated that there are about 2,800 roadside workers as part of the national workforce in the country, which is 0.4 percent of the country’s population.  The primary and foremost task associated and reserved for this group of roadside workers are maintenance of the overland public national highways (PNH), clearing road obstructions, culverts, cross drainage structures, side drains, minor slides, road surface repairs, masonry work, and clearing of vegetation along the road side.

This group of the national workforce is ubiquitous in both southern and northern roads.  Against extreme and unforgiving climatic conditions, most often with bare minimum means to brace the harsh working conditions, they are seen to continue to endure and live up to their mandates. Over time, they have evolved to become an integral force and an ambassador of cleaner and pleasant roads in the country.

Against all odds and many challenges, all that remains to be seen is their relentless and intriguing design for survival even at a time when living is increasingly becoming a matter of survival of the fittest. They form the most vulnerable layers of the sections of our society.

As one travels along the lateral highways, it is not an uncommon sight to see the dwellings of these workers, mostly in a dilapidated state. Their working conditions are perilous and living conditions poor. There is a dire need to improve both their working and living conditions by providing them with better housing. It is about time the plight of our roadside workers are addressed.

Raising the daily wage of NWF was one of the pledges of the government. The government has recently assured the wage raise would be given after domestic revenue grows.

The wage rate of the NWF in the country was last revised in 2015 and is now long overdue. It is learnt that from the total NWFs, the skilled ones have been given the wage raise some three years back and are reportedly employed at dzong construction sites. The remaining bulk of 1,500 are currently paid Nu 215 a day. In the light of inflation and the ever-rising cost of living, for both this group of NWF and their families, survival has become increasingly challenging.

The revision of the national work force wage have corresponding and rippling effect in socioeconomic ecosystem such as the escalating cost of construction, severe impact on legal settlement such as ‘Thrimthue’, ‘Sothue’, amongst others. The implications are manifold. A lot of independent research, studies and meetings have recommended wage rate revision.

Maintaining the national highways and road system is central to the growth of the nation. Our roadside workers continue to be a vital force in the country, earnestly engaged in maintaining our national asset. There is an urgent need to readjust our lenses and focus on these group of workers.

Contributed by 

Kezang Namgyel 

BHSL, Jigmiling,