Acute 'topman' shortage at ONGC safety threat

Vol 19, PW 21 (30 Jun 16) People & Policy

Unions are accusing ONGC of compromising safety and quality by using less qualified junior rig-workers or 'floorhands' to replace more qualified 'derrick-men' or 'topmen' who guide drill pipes into the top of the derrick while removing drill strings.

ONGC apparently has only 25 qualified 'topmen' on its payroll when it actually needs another 200 for its 67 onland rigs across India, according to union figures. Senior ONGC management met union leaders on June 15 at Rajahmundry to discuss their concerns.

"According to international standards each rig should have two 'topmen' and three 'floorhands'," says a source at the meeting. "For example ONGC has three drilling rigs and one workover rig in Tripura but for these four rigs it has just three 'topmen' and no 'floorhands'." Our source complains ONGC plans to hire additional 'topmen' on contract, not through the company payroll.

Worse, union leaders are insulted by an April 1 office order saying junior drilling workers with three years work experience who carry out 'topman' duties (after receiving 48-hours training) will only receive a Rs160 ($2.35) bonus for an eight hour shift and Rs240 ($3.50) for a 12-hour shift. "Oil and gas is not produced in the Ivory Tower of Jeevan Bharati in New Delhi," reads a letter sent by ONGC's Mumbai workers union on April 5, 2016 to chairman DK Sarraf.

"It is offensive and we are ashamed by your decision."