The “Austra-Laya” of Bhutan

… Bhutanese across the country flock to Laya for work given the higher wages Layaps can pay them 

Labour: Many urban Bhutanese are moving abroad to places like Australia looking for greener pastures. But there are those with different skills from remote districts who have found a similar place with lucrative pay for work.

They call it ‘Austra-Laya’.

Laya gewog is situated 3,800 metres above sea level and with plenty of work to do from transporting materials for the gewog’s electrification works to building houses that pay handsome money.

The workers have come in droves from across the country; Trashigang to Punakha. Some have been working there for months, and a few others, for years.

The only limitation here is time. Workers have less than nine months to work as heavy snow, from early November to February, prevent any work.

Jigme Wangchuk, 27, from Phongmey, Trashigang and his friends are rushing to gather enough stones for a house construction near the gewog centre. They have taken the job on contract with the owner. In a few weeks it will be difficult to work, if not impossible, as the snowfalls intensify.

Jigme said working in Laya is far better in terms of pay, from any other work he had done so far.

“If you want, there is no limit to how much you can make (money) out here,” the former Punatsangchu hydropower project driver said.

An unskilled construction worker earns Nu 1,000 a day with three meals provided. For those who take up certain works on contract, they are provided with rice and their daily wage goes up to Nu 1,800.

However, it is easier said than done. Most do not last more than six months. Last year, Jigme Wangchuk came with seven friends, he is the only one remaining.

“Because of the harsh weather conditions and the cold, most give up after some months,” said Dorji Khandu from Trashigang.

But given the income they make from work that would fetch only a quarter the money in other districts, newcomers like Tashi Wangdi and his friends from Chaskhar, Mongar are determined to return next year.

“There’re many people from the eastern districts and we feel at home here,” the 31-year-old said.

Most of their works are related to building houses like sawing, and transporting timber and stones.

Lungo village tshogpa, Lhaba Tshering said that since Layaps remained most of their lives in the mountains, they did not have the skills or experience in carpentry or house construction.

“So there is no option but to hire others to build our homes,” he said. “As we pay good wages there is no dearth of workers.”

Many families in the gewog have more than two houses; the maximum is four. Layaps make good income from cordyceps and sale of yak produce.

“This is a good lesson for the government on creating employment. If the pay is right, our people would do any kind of work,” a civil servant said.

The gewog has 250 households and many more houses under construction.

Tshering Palden, Laya

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