Bhutan’s strict Covid regime creates shortage of construction workers; delaying pr0jects

The construction industry in Bhutan has been facing an acute shortage of workers, mainly exacerbated by the strict health guidelines put in place in the wake of the pandemic, as many contractors now fear delays in crucial ongoing projects

Nov 12, 2021
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The construction industry in Bhutan

The construction industry in Bhutan has been facing an acute shortage of workers, mainly exacerbated by the strict health guidelines put in place in the wake of the pandemic, as many contractors now fear delays in crucial ongoing projects. The majority of construction workers in the Himalayan country come from neighboring India. 

The Construction Association of Bhutan (CAB), a union of construction businessmen and contractors, said that limited quarantine facilities for foreign workers are the primary reason, according to a report in the national newspaper Kuensel. The country still has strict quarantine measures in place. 

While the rest of the world struggled to control the pandemic, Bhutan, a country of 780,000 people, emerged as a rare success story, not only in keeping the cases in control but also in vaccinating almost all of its eligible population.

However, part of the success also lies in the strict Covid regime and effective implementation of the same by the government. Unlike most other countries, which are now focussing on the recovery in their economy and relaxing restrictions, Bhutan still maintains strict quarantine norms, including for fully vaccinated people. 

CAB’s president Tshering Yonten said they would look for hotels (for quarantining guest workers) if the government approved their request. “Contractors will pay the charges,” he was quoted as saying by Kuensel. 

Due to limited hotels, the government has fixed quotas for different sectors. Of them, Yonten claimed, the private construction industry has been given the least priority. “If we wait, construction firms won’t be able to get foreign workers until monsoon season next year, and it will hamper progress and delay projects,” he said.

Bhutan's Minister for Works and Human Settlement Dorji Tshering said the industry could seek approval from the National Covid-19 Task Force (NC19TF) or the Ministry of Health.

 “There are no vacant quarantine hotels in Phuentsholing, Samtse, and Gelephu (districts near the Indian border),” he said. However, he added, they might be allotted hotels and quarantine facilities in distant districts. 

Furthermore, in the absence of workers, most contractors are racing to complete the contract work, Yonten said. In fact, he added, “Contractors would rather pay to bring in foreign workers than pay a penalty for the delayed work and termination.”

Most private contractors are currently surviving on the relief scheme announced by the government. And they would go bankrupt if the government withdrew this support, he claimed.

 (SAM) 

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