Paradigm shift required to take up available jobs: Labor Minister

With the livelihood of 30,000 to 40,000 people affected by the pandemic, the labor ministry is brainstorming ideas and consulting stakeholders to employ them in various engagement initiatives, said Labor Minister Ugyen Dorji.

“It is an engagement option now where they earn but are not necessarily employed,” said Lyonpo.

Additionally, he said the ministry has some ideas to support the livelihood of about 30,000 to 40,000.

The ministry also plans to study the current status of the their engagement and employment, the job seekers’ short term and long term aspirations so the projects and programs are aligned accordingly. 

Lyonpo said the number of unemployed comes around 17,000 as per the ministry’s official record excluding operational and non-operational businesses, however, the figure could have increased to 30,000 to 40,000 as of now.

As per the ministry’s record, the unemployed accounts for about 3,000 active job seekers registered in job portal from about 8,000 to 9,000 registered.

It also included 9,500 technically laid-off from jobs including who came from overseas due to the pandemic. Statistics show 3,861 are technically laid-off from and 671 resigned.

While, those who were not able to be traced are recorded as unemployed and there could be others who have not registered in job portal, said Lyonpo.

Lyonpo also said there are about 9,000 who are on leave without pay, about 1,300 are on leave with partial pay and about 5,000 on reduced pay supported by His Majesty The King’s kidu are technically employed however, they are as good as unemployed.

The labor ministry has initiated the Build Bhutan Project, Youth Engagement and Livelihood Program (YELP), and Youth farming group and other cooperatives, basic entrepreneurship course, critical skills training to engage those unemployed.

The Build Bhutan Project would engage about 7, 000 individuals over a period of two years of which 6,702 would be provided with skilling, re-skilling, and up-skilling in construction trades leading to national certification.

Additionally, the project would employ 14, 495 workers in the construction sector and establish 18 specialized firms.

Under YELP, the ministry provides wage support to unemployed of Nu 5,000 per month for a year to encourage the employers.

Similarly, the ministry also supports Nu 5,000 to engage youth under youth farming group and cooperatives program.

Currently, 530 are undergoing training under the Build Bhutan project, few hundreds each in YELP, basic entrepreneurship course, Youth farming group and other cooperatives, and critical skills training.

The government is planning to engage with the government priorities that includes the laying of the base course of all the farm roads in the country, Build Bhutan Project, His Majesty’s project of building water infrastructure and several other public infrastructure projects, said Lyonpo.

Moreover, he said the De-suung program is an attractive and effective program that recruited 2,000 unemployed youths.

Additionally, Lyonpo said, the corporate sectors, government and private sectors and businesses are recruiting the employees in small scale.

Lyonpo said with COVID-19 travel procedures, foreign workers are not able to come in the country and as many continue to leave, there is a supply gap of 30,000 to 40,000 workers in the country.

Additionally, he said the Bhutanese are not willing to work given the huge supply gap in construction sector and in this unprecedented situation, dialogues and discourses have to shift from employment to engagement and national service because the nation is struggling.

Annually, 40,000 to 50,000 foreign workers are engaged in the construction sector. Currently, 18,000 workers are in the country and about 10,000 foreign workers have left since March.

Forty eight foreign workers have entered the country since March and are placed in hydropower, education and information and technology sectors.

Of the total 50, 057 foreign workers in the country as of June 2019, the majority of 41,083 workers were employed in the building and related trade indicating that most of them are hired in the construction industry, according to the Ministry of Labor and Human Resources’ annual report, 2018-2019. Annually, the Royal Monetary Authority remits Nu 7bn as payments for foreign workers.

Lyonpo said to create employment opportunities it was difficult in the past and now with the pandemic, it has become double or triple times difficult. 

Additionally, he said creating employment would depend on how fast the country’s economy recovers.

The government has projected the Gross Domestic Product to negative 2.1 for 2020 from 3.03% in 2018.

For employment generation, the shift has to start from the minds and heart of job seekers to take up available jobs in the market with economic diversification and sound economic policy, said Lyonpo adding that agriculture and construction sector would stay.

“As long as our economic growth is driven by hydropower sector and we continue to bring in foreign workers there would be less employment for the Bhutanese and unwillingness of the Bhutanese to take up the available jobs,” he said.

Moreover, he said some jobs have to be taken up in technical and vocational careers as not many of them would continue to get jobs in offices.

“The primary objective of economic development has to be employment generation besides revenue generation” said Lyonpo.

On the unemployment rate, Lyonpo said it would be wrong for the labor ministry to project the unemployment rate, however, the Labour Force Survey that would be carried out in December this year would determine the exact figure. The unemployment rate was 2.7% and youth unemployment rate was estimated at 11.9% in 2019, as per the Labor Force Survey report, 2019.

pic courtesy: Facebook

Thukten Zangpo from Thimphu