In the first major relaxation of India’s tough labour laws, the government plans to allow companies in the oil and gas sector to decide on the working hours for their onsite workers.
Workers in the sector will be allowed to work at a stretch on rigs and at refineries instead of the mandatory eight hours on a work day with a weekly off day. At present, companies, including those in the public sector, follow this flexible system even though there is no legal sanction. Significantly, the government will bring in the change through an executive order instead of amending labour laws as that would be difficult to steer through Parliament, it is learnt.
“The proposal is in line with international practice as given the far-off locations at which oil fields are located, it is neither viable nor possible for workers to get weekly offs,” said a senior government official.
Under the existing system, companies with workers posted at offshore oil rigs or at remote locations onshore, have two options: if they get employees to work continuous shifts, they risk violating labour laws. The alternative is to get them to work for six days a week but that raises employee costs and makes no sense at non-family stations. The companies in the sector have now approached the ministry of labour and employment to get around the problem as the number of such employees have jumped with the expansion in oil and gas exploration fields.
“The country’s labour laws are decades old and do not reflect the present reality. For a worker living in the middle of the sea on an oil rig without a family, a weekly off does not have any significance,” pointed out Michael Dias, secretary, Employers’ Association of Delhi and a member of the Council of Indian Employers. A government official said the proposal was being examined and a decision was expected soon.
Although there are specific laws that govern different sectors such as the Mines Act, the Shops and Establishments Act and the Plantation Labour Act, the maximum working hours for any contract or permanent worker cannot be more than 48 hours a week, with a weekly off after every six working days.
The move in the oil and gas sector also opens the way for amending provisions in other sectors without waiting for legislative approval. This would mark a significant milestone in India’s labour laws that are not only decades old, but are also seen as rigid and unfriendly.