News Article

Adapting to Several Storms of Change All at Once

By Pedro Alcalá | Wed, 07/14/2021 - 16:46

Between the pandemic and the government’s efforts to modify labor laws, the human resources and crewing segment of Mexico’s oil and gas industry have navigated a treacherous route for the last 12 months. The lessons they have learned throughout this journey were touched upon in the third panel of the first day of Mexico Oil & Gas Summit 2021, entitled “HR, Outsourcing and Safety: Crewing the Industry in 2021”.

The panel was moderated by Rafael Daryanani, Regional Manager of Mexssub, who explained the circumstances of the industry during 2020: “Mexico suffered an economic recession during the pandemic which affected all industries, but even within that context, there was particular confusion in the oil and gas sector.” Daryanani further explained the efforts the Mexican government has made to modify existing labor laws with the objective of limiting outsourcing schemes, which added to this confusion and compounded the stress being put on human resource managers and the larger recruitment sector within the industry. Throughout all of this, Daryanani commended the essential role that the HR sector played in allowing the sector to maneuver through these troubled times successfully, adding that “leadership from companies has been crucial in ensuring the safety of human resources in the oil and gas industry.” He began the panel discussion by asking panelists to characterize what their experiences were as they tried to guarantee the safety of employees amidst the pandemic. 

Panelist Christian Eduardo Heras, OPITO Coordinator of Relyon Nutec, offered his perspective as a trainer of current and prospective industry employees, saying that their first reference as an international company became WHO recommendations, which became a useful tool to stay ahead of the curve as Mexican authorities developed their own protocols. Relyon Nutec was one of the industry’s innovators when it came to the adoption of digital practices for safety training purposes, which proved crucial to improving the safety standards among offshore workforces. “Hygiene, social distancing and protection measures are important training elements to ensure safety amid the pandemic,” said Heras. 

While Heras focused on the certainty of his company’s response, panelist Daniela Nava, Human Resources Manager of Vopak, focused her response on the prevailing uncertainty that characterized this period and how her company addressed it. Nava made clear that the question of their strategy to face the pandemic has a variable answer because such strategy has changed quite frequently, especially during the first months of the pandemic. A lack of relevant information was common during this time, so developing leadership qualities that were more general and adaptable among employees became crucial. Crisis management training became necessary and common. The high unemployment rate was creating new anxieties among the workforce, therefore, Nava explained that Vopak’s human resources department focused on making sure that the company’s employees would know that all payroll promises would be kept and that everybody's work was appreciated; these efforts would come to significantly strengthen the organization as a whole. “We learned a lot during the pandemic. Pretty much everyone became an expert in safety protocols, which has helped to keep everyone safe,” said Nava. 

Panelist Guido Van der Zwet, General Manager of IPS Powerful People, also highlighted that all companies that worked in more than one state had to contend with a variety of standards and attitudes from public authorities when trying to adapt to pandemic rules. This had a particular impact on offshore crewing and activities, since necessary quarantine measures for vessel crewmen drastically altered the logistical preparations and timeframes of operators and other clients of companies like IPS Powerful People. Van der Zwet believed one of the decisive success factors during the pandemic was the ability of recruitment agencies and human resources consultants to find practical solutions in tight deadlines to each problem that arose, especially since oil and gas was a critical industry for Mexico that was not able to halt its operations. Van der Zwet hopes that this can-do attitude can remain applicable as Mexico moves into the third wave of COVID-19 infections. “We will continue to learn more about how to handle the third wave of infections. People have to adapt and follow instructions as they move forward,” said Van der Zwet. 

Daryanani concluded that institutional flexibility was crucial to surviving the pandemic, which led the discussion towards the question of regulatory changes. Nava believed that the impact of limiting outsourcing was relatively limited for companies with a high degree of established presence in Mexico. “For large, well-structured companies, the changes in outsourcing regulation will not be a big deal. This will affect smaller, family-based companies much more,” said Nava. However, Nava did admit that these legal changes made a lot of institutional processes take much longer, since decisions now needed to be approved from the perspective of more stakeholders; for example, STPS was now taking a closer look at all the moves that companies were making to formalize all their employment arrangements. As a result, all timeframes have been extended and extensions of deadlines have been sought from public authorities. 

Van der Zwet believed that the limiting of outsourcing could actually have a much larger and more complicated impact than Nava’s claims would suggest, especially since payroll departments “do a lot more regulatory compliance work than everybody thinks; they are doing much more than simply calculating salaries, and in many companies their importance is underestimated.” Van der Zwet characterized the “prohibitive” approach to outsourcing reflected in recent regulatory changes as “radical”, but he also understood it within a broader historical context, explaining that “Outsourcing has been a bit of an ugly word in recent years, associated with dirty practices like reducing salaries and preventing payments, even wage theft. However, there are many outsourcing companies that follow the rules and pay well, including benefits.” Van der Zwet claimed that out of all outsourcing companies that operate in Mexico, most pay one hundred percent of salaries, which in the oil and gas industry are quite high in general.

Pedro Alcalá Pedro Alcalá Journalist and Industry Analyst