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A troubled labour sector

The labour ministry in the dog year whimpered with major problems related to its overseas programmes. 

The problems worsened in 2018 with the infamous earn and learn programme in Japan coming under Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) radar. More than 700 youth were placed by last year but complaints continued about Bhutan Employment Overseas’s (BEO) overcharging tuition and other fees. 

The former labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo was sent on paid leave for about five months. The ACC was asked to investigate the alleged corrupt practices. ACC’s report, which was shared at the end of December, revealed lapses and corrupt practices in the award of training in India and Japan.

It also found corrupt practices in the earn and learn programme. Some officials of the labour ministry were charged of not following procedures and some officials were implicated. Although a number of visits were made to Japan, there was not much communication among the Bhutanese youth, the labour officials and the agency. 

To understand more about the situation of the Bhutanese youth in Japan, the new labour minister and a team will soon visit Japan. All youth availed a loan of about Nu 700,000 each. The focus of the government is to address the issues of students and make the programme sustainable. There are still opportunities to strengthen the programme as an increasing number of youth hit the job market annually. 

Despite problems with the overseas programmes, there were few among hundreds who had managed to get full-time jobs and cleared their loans.  

In addition to the 28 occupation categories, the ministry, last year, took a bold move to facilitate employment opportunities and develop skills of the workforce. It closed four more occupation categories to foreign workers – carpenters in furniture units, architects, construction supervisors, and early childhood and care development manager and or staff. 

Numerous startup programmes were conducted to help entrepreneurs establish their businesses in the market. However, these programmes need to be followed up and monitored so that businesses are not only pitched at the programmes but also are launched in the market.

The year also saw the labour ministry reinforcing the need to establish provident fund (PF) schemes in private companies. This is in line with the labour and employment Act that states that upon retirement, an employee is entitled to PF and gratuity. 

The new government announced that an employment responsibility system would be established to collectively create jobs. It has to create about 67,000 jobs in five years.

While the dog year called for efficiency in the labour ministry, the new year, under the new government appears promising for now. The focus on vocational education remains one of its salvations.

Rinchen Zangmo

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