Almost after a year since the first positive coronavirus case was reported in the country in a 76-year-old patient and a tourist from the US, one ostensible change that we see today is many of our young jobseekers taking up works in the construction sector following the exodus of foreign workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whether it is some road construction works or works needing manual labor today, we see familiar faces which was something missing before the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have been heavily reliant on workers from across the border to carry out our construction works hitherto; no matter whether it is big or small. It won’t be totally wrong per se to say that most of our concrete buildings and mammoth structures that make our urban towns and cities today have been built by workers from across the border.
It was heartening and appeared like a timely intervention, therefore, when the labor ministry initiated the Build Bhutan Project (BBP) to address the huge employment gap in the construction sector following the exodus of foreign workers because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This intervention over a period of two years also aimed to address unemployment and the lay off by filling the gap in the construction sector.
The BBP must be commended for being able to draw in a huge number of our young jobseekers wanting to take up jobs in the construction sector. Manual jobs such as the one in the construction sector will and perhaps never attract the same number of jobseekers and enthusiasm like the BBP. Since the labor ministry announced the new wage rates for BBP employees on January 29, which was to be rolled out from February, more than 1,800 Bhutanese registered with the BBP.
However, most BBP employees are now disappointed as they collected their monthly wage for February. The wage raises, as announced, appeared only as if to beguile the young jobseekers to join the BBP.
The ministry has instead clarified that it’s revisiting its decision as part of the plan to overhaul the country’ employment scenario. Justifications have also been made that recruiting foreign workers would be now easier with the pandemic improving, bringing in foreign workers wouldn’t be a big problem, and that foreign workers can never be replaced.
Why should the ministry then announce the new wage rates for BBP employees if they were not even decided or finalized? We cannot take the young jobseekers for granted. Or is this how we motivate, inspire and encourage our people to work in the construction sector? Such doing from the labor ministry is not expected. This is outright deception.
Further, how long are we going to rely on the foreign workers? While the labor ministry’s emphasis seems to be on the recruitment of foreign workers, it should also be aware that our youth unemployment issue is only aggravating.
Amid all these dramas, we only hope that we have not squandered the opportunity today to at least address some of our youth unemployment issue and bring the much-expected transformation in our construction sector.