The Covid-19 pandemic has created a huge shortage of labourers. It has also created opportunities for Bhutanese, especially youth and those laid off or lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Bhutanese have taken up the odd manual jobs that expatriate from across the borders did until now.
One such job is unloading and loading of goods that are transshipped from the border town in Phuentsholing. The border is sealed and cheap Indian workers are no more available.
To ease the pressure on the economy, the government had arranged, with the help of the Indian Embassy in Thimphu, to allow goods including construction materials. The decision has helped the thousands of constructions, government and private, in the country to continue even when India, the source of goods, was in a lockdown. It was only essentials first. To ease the pressure on construction owners, the government has included hardware items in the list of essentials.
However, those in the trading or construction sector are complaining of escalating cost of goods because of the uncontrolled loading and unloading charges Bhutanese workers are charging at the transit point.
They are making the most of the shortage and the absence of regulation. But this is going to have ripple effect. Those bringing in goods will pass on the escalating cost to consumers. If it is essentials, price of food will increase. If it is construction materials, house owners would pass it on to tenants. Even the government would be coughing up more as contractors bid keeping in mind the escalating cost of goods.
Charging Nu 10,000 to 12,000 to load a truck is expensive. That is almost the cost of transporting a truckload of goods from Phuentsholing to Thimphu. Given the increasing number of cases both within the country and in neighbouring Indian states, it is not sure when the border would open. From reports of cases reaching nearer to our borders, the situation looks worrying.
Left unregulated, the repercussions will be long term. It will be the norm that will push the cost of goods. We have experienced such trends in the past when fuel price fluctuates. Cost of goods increases with increase in price, but never go down when fuel price drops.
Expatriate workers, especially the contractors (thekhadars), who try to employ Bhutanese always complain that Bhutanese look for short-term gains. They want to work for a few days and demand unreasonable wages.
It is good that Bhutanese are finding some employment when the coronavirus pandemic has affected their livelihood, but taking advantage of the situation and charging unreasonable price to make the most of a situation is not healthy. The office of consumer protection is regulating and monitoring the cost of essentials to prevent inflation. Somebody has to regulate wages or hiring charges.
Left to the situation, it is like the prime minister saying killing the milking cow for meat.