Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Small businesses in the service sector in Phuentsholing are struggling to run their day-to-day operations due to a lack of skilled workers. After the departure of foreign workers following the closure of the border, many companies are struggling to hire help.
The owner of a cafe and bakery in town, Ugyen Dhoendrup, said the workers he currently has are considering leaving.
“They want to move to low-risk areas,” he said. “But we have to keep the store running.”
Ugyen said the repeated closures have already affected businesses and residents in Phuentsholing. Without skilled workers, service sector companies like his are the hardest hit, he added.
The businessman also said that there are Bhutanese workers all over the country but they do not want to come to work in Phuentsholing. Bhutanese workers are also demanding high wages and they are not giving employers the required security, he said.
“I wrote to the labor office but failed to recruit,” said Ugyen Dhoendrup, adding that he needed about four to five qualified people to work in his restaurant and bakery.
A hotel owner, Pema, said it was difficult to recruit Bhutanese workers as they demanded higher wages.
“Although we are ready to pay them, they are not as skilled as foreign workers,” he said. “In fact, there are not many people in this area.”
These days, even dishwashers have to be used as cooks, he said.
Pema said he also asked the labor office about recruitment, but not a single person showed up.
Today, Pema is satisfied with three employees. He needs about six more.
Restaurateur Sonam Penjor, meanwhile, has decided to sell his restaurant located in the heart of the city.
“We find workers but they ask too much for wages,” he said. “We can’t work at such high rates.”
Employers said a cook asks about Nu 20,000 these days. With the business already affected, that’s too much, they said. Even if they are willing to pay, Bhutanese recruits are not as qualified. Despite many restaurants and hotels offering free food and accommodation, there are no takers.
After the gate closed on March 23, 2020, hundreds of day laborers across the border left Phuentsholing, leaving local businesses in turmoil. From loading to cleaning, young Bhutanese have come to the fore. However, due to repeated blockages, many have left Phuentsholing.