The Food Corporation of Bhutan Limited’s (FCBL) regional manager in Samdrupjongkhar, Pema Wangchuk, said the wage for loading and unloading of potatoes at the auction yard has increased to Nu 5 from Nu 3.5 a bag from August 1.

He said the wages increased since it has been many years without giving the labourers any increase.

Pema Wangchuk explained that of the Nu 10, the farmers have to pay Nu 5 for unloading and the bidders have to bear the Nu 5 for the loading. “We have increased the rate to encourage the labourers to work at the auction yard, as other labourers get Nu 20 to 30 a sack depending on the weight.”

However, labourers engaged in loading and unloading potatoes at the auction yard were not aware of the increased wages.

The labourers, mostly people from Bihar in India, were paid Nu 3.5 for loading or unloading a 50kgs bag of potatoes until July this year.

They claim that they should be paid more since the bags of potatoes weigh more than 65kgs to 75kgs.

The in-charge of the labourers, Bhaijnath Pasma, 45, said although farmers should pack the potatoes in 50kgs bags as per the rule, farmers pack more to save the transportation charges, as they have to pay Nu 100 a sack.

“Potatoes get rotten because of over-packaging and it only incurs loss to the farmers but it’s also an extra burden to us because we need to carry an extra of 15 to 25kgs.

He said that since the Nu 7 they earn for unloading and loading from FCBL is for the 50kgs sack, it would help them if the FCBL could increase the wages to Nu 10.

“We unload and load more than 1,000 sacks of potatoes, which is about five to nine truckloads of potatoes and10 to 15 bolero pick-up trucks a day,” Bhaijnath Pasma said.

He said labourers earn about Nu 7,000 to 8,000 a month and it’s difficult for them, as they have parents and children to look after.

A labourer, Shiv Chandra, 60, from Bihar in India, said he was paid Nu 3 initially for loading and unloading the potatoes when he first started working at the auction yard.

He said he has been working as a labourer for the last 30 years. “We could survive then with that money because the inflation rate was low even in Bhutan.”

He said since the inflation rate has increased in last few years and the works at the auction yard have also become heavy, FCBL has increased to Nu 3.5 each from Nu 1.5 for every loading and unloading. “But it’s difficult to survive because of the inflation.”

Another labourer, Ragiv, 30, said they are happy to hear the news about the increase of the wages, as it was challenging for them to work at the auction yard with low wages. “We can now give better education to our children.”

Meanwhile, there are about 18 labourers registered but only about 10 of them work at the auction yard.

Kelzang Wangchuk | Samdrupjongkhar