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Bhutan: Labor Force
Country Study > Chapter 3 > The Economy > Labor Force


The economy of Bhutan is characterized by the predominance of people engaged in self-employment, reported the government's Planning Commission in 1989, "particularly those working their own land." Statistics available for the mid-1980s revealed that 87 percent of the working-age population was involved in agricultural work, another 3.4 percent in government services, 0.9 percent in business, 2 percent in "other" occupations, and 6.5 percent -- mostly teenagers and young adults -- that had no stated occupation. In the late 1980s, there was a serious shortage of indigenous nonagricultural labor and, in the government's view, an overabundance of foreign laborers. To carry out the construction of roads, hydropower plants, and other infrastructure development so important to modernization, the government, however, has had to depend upon foreign laborers. Low wages for laborers, ties to agricultural work, and a dispersed population led to the influx of migrant labor, estimated to have reached 100,000 Nepalese laborers from India in 1988.

Foreign laborers in Bhutan increased during the 1980s, compelling the government to identify and expel the growing number of those without work permits. In a government crackdown starting in 1986, some 1,000 illegal foreigners were expelled. Most were Nepalese; Bangladeshis and Indians made up the balance. By 1988 the crackdown had reduced the number of foreign workers and provided opportunities for some 4,000 unemployed Bhutanese to join the work force.

Trade union activity was not legalized until 1991. There was no collective bargaining, and labor-related issues were nil in a society in which less than 1 percent of the population was involved in industrial work. Bhutan was not a member of the International Labour Organisation.

Data as of September 1991

Last Updated: September 1991

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bhutan was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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