THE Bank Employees Federation of India, in a statement issued on May 30, has congratulated the million strong bankmen (workmen and officers) for their splendid role in making the all India bank strike on May 30 a huge success. Demanding meaningful negotiations and expeditious wage-settlement that has been overdue since November 1, 2017, and protesting against the bankers’ offer of a pittance of 2 per cent wage increase on the plea of poor paying capacity, the strike has been called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), the umbrella-organisation of nine unions of workmen and officers of the banking industry.
Banks in our country, be in public sector or private, have all along been earning decent profits; all the public sector banks (PSBs) taken together have earned operating profits to the tune of Rs 1,38,440 crore, Rs 1,36,926 crore and Rs 1,58,982 crore in the preceding three years – 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. In recent years, however, provisioning against bad loans, euphemistically called non-performing assets (NPA) has swallowed up the lion’s share of the profits. While some amounts of bad loans is a normal incidence and, hence, provisioning there-against is a normal loss in banking business, the enormous growth of NPAs and, as such, astronomical provisioning, has been of very recent origin. Total NPAs of all PSBs taken together that stood at Rs 2,29,278 crore at the end of 2013-14 fiscal, has more than trebled to Rs 7,70,280 crore (as on December 31, 2017) in less than four years. More than 85 per cent of these NPAs are accounted for by big corporates having unholy nexus with political bosses at the centre and top echelons of banks. The Reserve Bank of India has recently identified 12 such corporate accounts having outstanding loans, identified as NPAs, of Rs 2,53,733 crores. Naturally enough, our PSBs have had to provide as much as Rs 1,00,900 crore, Rs1,54,918 crore and Rs 1,70,370 crore, in respectively 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17. While the profits are generated through dedication and toil of the workforce, credit for generation of NPAs goes to the top echelons of banks and their political bosses. Hence, demanding a small fraction of operating profits by way of wage increase is more than justified when more than 70 per cent (and even more than 100 per cent in the last two years) is allowed to be siphoned out through the subterfuge of provisioning for NPAs. Incidentally, every 1 per cent of wage increase would entail an additional burden of only Rs 500 crore annually.
Another contention put forward by the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) is that wage should be performance linked. By that logic, most of the top bosses of the banks, having shown their dubious acumen in generating NPAs, should cool their heels behind the bars.
Be that as it may, the workmen and officers of banks, united under the banner of UFBU, are determined to clinch a fair wage deal and, should IBA neglect or refuse to listen, the bankmen shall be compelled to make it listen through intensified action programme before long.