Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar

More than 70 students are employed in segregating and packing mandarin oranges at depots in Samdrupjongkhar.

Usually, Indian labourers are employed for the task. However, since borders remain closed, exporters have deployed the youth.

Many students work temporary jobs at construction sites to earn enough money to meet their educational expenses in the following year.

Students said they are happy as they earn Nu 12,000 a month and get free food.

A class VIII student, Pema Cheki said that she was doing this work for the first time.

“I feel happy and proud to work at the depots because I could help my parents with what I earn,” Pema Cheki said.

Ringsel Norbu Jamtsho said initially grading the mandarin oranges by their size was challenging. But now he wants to do this every winter.

“I would not only use the money for myself, but I would also help people who are in the problems,” Ringsel Norbu Jamtsho said.

“It won’t affect our studies because we do our homework assigned by the teachers through social media such as WeChat and study at night,” a class VII student, Tshering Dema said.

Rin-Yang Export’s proprietor, Meme Seyna, said that he deployed about 70 students at the depot in Samdrupjongkhar and need about 30 workers at the depot in Nganglam, Pemagatshel.

He said that the 70 Bhutanese workers can complete only 85 boxes a day whereas 40 Indian labours would finish about 1,200 to 1,300 boxes.

“We paid about Nu 30 a box to foreign workers whereas today we are paying Nu 12,000 a month per person,” Meme Seyna said. “But I hope the students deployed at the depots would learn the skill because they are working hard.”

Exporters said there is a shortage of workers because most of the students are underage. The regional labour office had committed to help but is yet to provide any.

“It would help if the labour office could provide the workers as it’s illegal to deploy the underage students,” one of the exporters said.

The labour officials said that the office mostly supports long-term employment but the work at the orange depots is seasonal. “The exporters would have to deploy or seek help from the loading and unloading workers after fixing a rate,” an official said.