Royal Commission on Labour in India: Report(1929)||
Petroleum is produced in India in the Punjab, in Assam and in Burma, nearly 9/10ths of the output coming from Burma. We received very full memoranda and every facility for enquiry from the Burmah Oil Company, which, with its associated Company in Assam, is responsible for about 4/5ths of the Indian output. We visited a small subsidiary field in Assam, and the main field at Yenangyaung, on the east bank of the Irrawaddy. What we say below must not be read as necessarily applicable to other companies, from which we received no evidence. Yenangyaung is dependent entirely on the oil wells and a pipe line 260 miles long conveys the oil to the large refineries near Rangoon. The field is thickly studded with rigs, the wells numbering nearly 2, 500 in this small area. The settlement of the Burmah Oil Company includes offices and workshops, housing for the staff and more than half the workers, recreation grounds and a large and well-equipped hospital. Approximately half the employees are Burmans and half Indians, the proportion of skilled labour being high. The normal week is one of 56 hours, worked either in 8 hour shifts or in five 10 hour days with a short Saturday. Some 18% of those employed work 8 hour shifts on continuous processes, without a rest day. Practically no women or children are employed.
After a period of labour unrest, the Company decided in 1923 that it was essential to get into closer touch with the workers and the conditions under which they work. They therefore established a labour bureau with a labour superintendent in charge, whose duties include all engagements and dismissals as well as the numerous tasks ordinarily undertaken by a welfare officer. We were informed that, from the Company's point of view, the superintendent is the representative of the workers, and it is his business to find out their needs and aspirations and to endeavour to obtain justice for them. The experiment appears to us to be justifying itself by the results obtained. Of the 17, 000 workers employed by this Company on the actual oilfields, about 12% are subject to the Factories Act, but the bulk of their workers and of those employed by other oil companies are subject to no statutory control in the matter of hours and health and to few statutory regulations in respect of safety.
Oilfields both in India and Burma are given complete exemption from the operation of the Mines Act, which would otherwise apply to them. In Burma there is an Oilfields Act which is directed to the preservation of the oil sands and includes provisions for the prevention of fire, but is not designed for the protection of labour. We are of opinion that the protection of the law in regard to rest days, hours, health and safety should be extended to workers on the oilfields. We also think that labour statistics analogous to those for factories and mines should be compiled and published. We therefore recommend that conditions on the oilfields be examined by Government with a view to determining whether the end can be achieved by modifying the present exemption and applying appropriate provisions of the Mines Act, or whether separate legislation should be passed for the regulation of hours, rest days, safety and health on oilfields. Whichever course may prove more suitable, some form of inspection will he necessary. In India, excluding Burma, the mines inspectors should be able to make the necessary inspections: in Burma the inspection of the oilfields, combined with the inspection of mines in the province, will require the appointment of a separate inspector.