Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing

In the absence of skilled woodworkers from across the border due to the lockdown, the wood-based industries in Phuentsholing have come to a grinding halt.

Given the specific requirement of skilled workers, it is also unlikely the industries would go operational anytime soon.

The deputy CEO of Bhutan Ply, PK Sharma, said that the plants had shut.

“There is demand for wood materials but there are no workers,” he said, the plant had about 100 daily workers from across the border.

The key operators are from across the border, PK Sharma said, adding that it was difficult to find such skilled workers among the Bhutanese.

Bhutan Ply used to pay Nu 200 to Nu 300 (minimum) per day the workers from across the border. The plant paid more than Nu 500 for skilled operators.

The president of the Association of Wood-based Industries (AWBI), Phuntsho Wangdi, said labour shortage was the main problem today. Wood industries even pay up to Nu 700 for skilled carpenters from across the border.

“They even work overtime and get paid extra,” the president said, adding that the wood industries were labour-intensive.

Phuntsho Wangdi said that Bhutanese were not interested in taking jobs in the wood industries which, according to him, was the reason there were not many skilled Bhutanese woodworkers.

The AWBI president also said that the demand had decreased because the construction sector is also facing shortage of labourers.

Phuentsholing labour office, in the meanwhile, has managed to employ many Bhutanese youth and jobless people in different types of work. From parking fee collection jobs to haircutting and ferrying goods at the mini dry port, labour office has employed more than 200 Bhutanese at present. These were the jobs that were all occupied by those from across the border.

However, filling the vacancies in the wood industries did not look possible, a labour official said.

A labour official said taking in fresh candidates and training them took time.

AWBI president said that the plants had long-term vision to replace the old technology.

Phuntsho Wangdi also said that the modern technologies would also reduce the number of wood workers and reduce wastage of wood. Some establishments, he said, have already installed the modern technologies.

The president said that the association discussed the labour issues with the government.

Most wood-based industries in the southern dzongkhags are facing the same problem.

Ugyen Sawmill’s proprietor in Samtse said that not having skilled labourers was the biggest problem today.

“Bhutanese are not used to working in this industry,” he said. “Maybe the government can help us.”