Around 226 people have resigned from the Build Bhutan Project so far
It is 5am in the morning and there is already a long queue outside the physician’s cabin at the national referral hospital in the capital, with many eagerly waiting to obtain their Medical Certificate (MC) to travel overseas for study and work.
Ugyen Choden, a former employee of Build Bhutan Project (BBP), who resigned from her job recently to return back to the Middle East, is one of the many who are going abroad seeking greener pastures.
“They pay better over there and work is far less taxing,” she said.
The Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR) also witnessed a large number of workers resigning from the project, especially after many countries around the world reopened its borders.
“Since the project’s inception, around 226 people have resigned, and most have done so in recent times as they are heading back overseas for better opportunities,” said Chimi Rinzin, the chief program officer of MoLHR.
“BBP was only a temporary measure put in place as a part of the economic contingency plan for those Bhutanese who had lost their job due to the pandemic.”
Currently, there are three categories of workers engaged with the BBP, namely the laid-off overseas returnees, people with unpaid leave (tourism sector) and the regular job seekers.
“Among these three categories, only the job seekers are remaining here while others are returning back to their pre-pandemic work as borders and economies are reopening,” Chimi Rinzin said.
Further, many speculate the ministry’s failure to provide the pay revision it promised early last year for employees quitting the project.
“The ministry announced a pay raise last year to attract more people into the project but all of a sudden it was put on hold indefinitely,” said a BBP employee.
According to the employment officer from the ministry, with the improvement in the pandemic situation, import of foreign workers from India has been reopened, thereby making the pay revision impractical.
“Now the BBP will just provide the wage top up based on one’s skills,” Chimi Rinzin said, adding the pay revision if enacted could have caused more harm than good. We will never be able to replace the foreign workers.”
Meanwhile, 394 youths with the BBP are permanently engaged in various areas of 46 specialized firms. However, on the construction front, the official mentioned that Bhutanese workers are less competent compared to the expatriates, besides being unskilled.
“Most youths engaged by the BBP are unskilled and to train them, we need skilled workers,” he added.
Therefore, in order to manage the foreign workers efficiently, and train Bhutanese youths in different disciplines of the construction sector, the ministry is going to implement the Foreign Workers Management Strategy (FWMS).
Chimi Rinzin mentioned how this new approach will streamline everything, from assessing the actual number of manpower required for constructing each building to creating an ideal ratio between the foreign and Bhutanese workers, mainly to train the latter alongside the highly skilled expatriates.
“With this policy, it will be mandatory for every sector importing foreign workers to employ a specific number of Bhutanese based on the ratio,” he explained, besides discouraging contractors to bring in expatriate workers illegally.
The ministry also has an alternative approach to enhance skill programs in areas with high demand.
“If we go by the trend, there is a high demand for skilled workers in the BBP, but on the contrary the supply of unskilled workers in the construction sector is high,” he said.
Presently, the BBP has employed 1,631 trainees in various sectors, in addition to the 1,351 skilled workers engaged in the construction sector.
Tshering Pelden from Thimphu