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For an unbroken lifeline

The immense input of the humble road-worker is played down by society at large
NATIONAL WORKFORCE Wearing dusty, faded and worn out clothes, a group of roadside workers were working with all their might, as if to beat the cold in Dochula.

Their hands were dry and cracked by the harsh weather and nature of their job. Winter is one of the toughest times for roadside workers, who, despite the cold, are garbed in clothes fit for summer.  Provided with wellingtons and a bukhari each by the works and human settlement ministry, they live in temporary sheds, made with tarpaulin and timber.

Cold is the biggest challenge in winter, said the workers, as they have to work with stones, and it becomes unbearable.

They have to buy warm clothes with the limited salary they get.

The group of workers is usually seen breaking stones, building walls and blacktopping roads, with tools like dressing hammer, crowbar, spade, shovel and tractors.  For blacktopping they use tar, roller, paver and hot mix plant.

While working with tools, some of which are outdated, the other challenges workers faced were ignorant travellers, who caused disturbances to their work.

Rinchen, 45, from Sarpang, said people don’t seem to understand that they are working for the roads, which will ultimately benefit themselves as travellers.

“There are people who overspeed, some drivers give us demeaning looks, and others pass comments,” he said. “The sand and cement by the roadside are disturbed by vehicles passing by, and the smoke some vehicles emit purposely is injurious to our health.”

Each day, except Sunday, the workers get up early, prepare lunch and get ready for work, which begins at about seven.  Most workers in Dochula have come from southern districts to admit their children in school, as they either didn’t have schools in their village, or couldn’t get admission.

Damber Doj Gurung, 56, from Dagana had to leave his village, as he did not have a plot for farming or building a house.  So he moved to Thimphu 12 years back as a roadside worker.  His children were enrolled in school. Now they are employed as drivers.

Being a woman roadside worker, Sukmati Limbu, 18, said was even more difficult. “But I don’t have a choice, for I have to supplement my husband, a tipper driver’s income,” Sukmati, who is three months pregnant, said.

“We have to work equally like men, pick heavy stones and use heavy tools,” she said. “And when we reach home, we don’t get time to rest, since we have to do household chores and cook.”

Today, there are about 3,000 roadside workers, of which 60 percent are men.  About two to five percent are expatriate workers.

They get a minimum wage of Nu 165 a day.

By Sonam Choden

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