Australia Rush is a Wake-up Call, says Labour Minister

Bhutan’s economy should grow and be able to provide at least 60 % of the remuneration that the Australian economy provides

Despite Prime Minister (PM) Dr. Lotay Tshering explaining on several platforms that the government has no policies to prevent Bhutanese from going to Australia, with rumors rife, especially on social media that it would happen, those planning to leave are trying everything to accelerate the procedures.

However, Lyonpo Karma Dorji, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) reiterated the PM’s words saying there is no policy to prevent people from going to Australia and other countries. On the contrary, Lyonpo said it is also a wake-up call for all in Bhutan, to make opportunities better and more attractive, especially on the economic front.

Lyonpo also shared that the MoLHR has conducted a study on overall overseas employment, and has come out with a draft National Strategy, which looks at three major points.

“Firstly, it is to ensure, that overseas employment is safe, secure and gainful, which would also ensure that our people are able to work at the professional level, not just in blue-collar jobs, but able to use the qualification and skills they have at the international level,” Lyonpo said.

The second concerns overseas support services, whereby the government would be able to effectively and efficiently provide helpful and meaningful services related to overseas employment.

“Lastly, it is a reintegration program, which is a design and develops programs, including services to re-invite them to Bhutan, with their plans and ideas for any economic activity in Bhutan,” Lyonpo said adding that Bhutanese abroad can decide if they want to start a business, work or do something else, through effective channels while keeping them updated of prospects in Bhutan with their new found skills or financial investment capacity.

In addition, Lyonpo shared that Bhutan’s economy should grow and be able to provide at least 60 % of the remuneration that the Australian economy provides. That way, people can be retained if it is remuneration that is driving them to Australia.

Citing an example, Lyonpo said that if Australia pays 1000 AUD, Bhutan should be able to pay 600 AUD.

Reiterating about the economy, he said a new economy should be created. “We are doing many in those fields; Tourism, Energy (Solar, Wind, and Exploring Hydrogen Energy), small or mini hydropower plants completely done by our people, new economies like emerging technology, digital jobs, cloud computing, and others in the field of skilling,” he said.

The labour minister added that people are required for the economy. “The balance is on making it attractive, the economy being able to provide higher remuneration or salary, therefore we need our economy to grow, and the government is working towards it,” he said, adding that it is about higher earnings with a better economy.

He also spoke about agriculture with technology such as Internet of Things (IoT), growing high-income generating products like asparagus and strawberry for exports, import substitutions; harnessing and encouraging exports in minerals, new Ferro Silicon Industries, boulder exports, and others, with fiscal policy support for export-oriented business, employment generations, mechanization, ease of doing business and other policy changes.

“The remuneration will ultimately depend on the skills and the economy as a whole, where demand and supply will play a critical role,” he said.

Meanwhile, Lyonpo said that the mass number of Bhutanese leaving for Australia is a positive development in one way as it indicates that Bhutanese are now capable and world ready, to be accepted in an advanced economy.

“Getting admission for studying in Australia shows that our education is also world ready, and we can get admissions for studying in a developed nation, with good scores in IELTS, TOEFL, and others. It is impressive, and in one way, we are proud of those being able to get through it and make it,” he said.

According to the Lyonpo, studying, being able to work, and also getting retained after the study is another impressive performance, which means Bhutanese are doing well in the field of work they are engaged in and can meet the work needs of their employers.

“So, the positive side is being there, studying well, and working hard, getting the exposure of an advanced economy, and hopefully getting better skills and better ideas of an advanced and diverse economy, which would be helpful, if it is used after they return to Bhutan,” Lyonpo said.

The other positive aspects are financial earnings that Bhutanese living abroad make and bring it back as remittances or later as an investment in Bhutan’s economy. “It will be another value addition, as they are able to add to the foreign reserve of the country,” Lyonpo said.

Remittances from Bhutanese living abroad hit the highest level for a single month in March 2022, compared to the March months of the last five years. Statistics from the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) show that it has increased almost by 27% compared to March of 2021.

As of March, this year, remittances valued in local currency stood at about Nu 1.38bn. The overseas Bhutanese sent home Nu 805mn in March alone which has increased by Nu 515.13mn from February. Nu 587mn was remitted in the same month of the previous year.

Additionally, Lyonpo said that while Bhutan’s economy is growing he would “like to believe this is a temporary phenomenon, where our Bhutanese are there for some time only, for a few years, and will be ultimately back to our country, with the skills, exposure, and financial strength to contribute and diversify our economy in more meaningful ways and ideas from down there while they are back.”

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu