The reality

The laying off of loaders at the mini dry port in Phuentsholing has stirred some discussions with many feeling that the decision to shed them enmass was not fair, especially after risking their lives to ensure the flow of essentials for nearly a year.

Mechanisation of facilities at the port has eliminated the need of workers to manage various jobs. Once the facility is fully mechanised, there will be more casualties. Whether improving the efficiency of service delivery will help reduce cost of essentials and cost of construction is yet to be seen, but what is clear is that “video will kill the radio star.”

As we wait for the normal or new normal, the Phuentsholing case will, unfortunately, not be the last. If thousands of Bhutanese, particularly those in the tourism and hotel industry, lost jobs overnight, there will be many shedding jobs as they adjust to the impact of the pandemic. Job loss will be deep, long lasting and very much the part of what we call “new normal.”

The pandemic, which has forced many to work remotely, has opened up a lot of possibilities and opportunities. With leveraging technology, companies have managed to stay afloat with a reduced number of working people and some are reshaping their businesses. The pandemic has not spared anyone. Those in private sector and a few corporations do not have the luxury or the cushion of ensured monthly salary with allowances. Tightening the kera (belt) is the first step. Some state-owned enterprises have slashed salaries. Many are entering into austerity measures.

The impact will last long. The mass layoffs, even if it is not a Bhutanese corporate culture, could happen, as more companies cut costs in order to survive what may be a prolonged downturn. Many economists have given up hope of a so-called V-shaped recovery, convinced that that return to normal will take more time, even if the whole population is vaccinated or the pandemic is brought under control.

In many developed countries with the most professional and sound corporate strategies and principles, laying off worker is one of the first steps, if not the first. For instance, recent US layoffs, it is reported, now exceed those during the Great Depression in sheer numbers. While its is almost automatic in the private sector to cut jobs to survive and maximise profit, it is not the norm in others. We would rather wait foe the employee to “retire through superannuation.”

Technology is changing the way we work and quickly eliminating or making people irrelevant. How do we stay relevant is the new challenge. Many companies will focus on the core business to stay afloat and grow.

The only flicker of hope is becoming innovative or reskilling. The pandemic has reminded us of our priorities. Some are making the most of it through innovations.

It may not be good news for the hundreds or thousands who lost jobs, but it is true that technology has forged some of the global leading companies after the 2008 global financial crisis. The reality is we will have to reshape, reskill and stay relevant.

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