February 09, 2020

Two Day Countrywide Successful Bank Strike

Debasish Basu Chaudhury

THE two-day countrywide bank strike on January 31 and February 1, 2020 was observed successfully. The strike was called by United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella organisation of nine all India federations of officers as well as workmen. More than eight lakh bank employees were on Strike on the 12-point demands including immediate wage revision settlement; scrap new pension scheme (NPS); updation of pension; improvement in family pension; defined working hours for officers; equal wage for equal work for contract employees/business correspondents etc.

The wage revision is due since November 1, 2017. The federations submitted common charter of demands in May 2017. The Indian Banks’ Association (IBA, a body of the bankers) assured UFBU that the discussions would be completed within the expiry of earlier settlement, ie, October 31, 2017. Since then, 40 rounds of discussions took place, the last one on January 30, 2020 but a settlement is yet to be reached.

The IBA took almost one year to make initial offer in February 2018, six months after the expiry of earlier settlement and that too only two per cent increase of pay slip components was made as on March 31, 2017. In the last settlement, the increase was 15 per cent of the pay slip components of the corresponding period. In protest, the UFBU observed two-day strike on May 30-31, 2018. The UFBU all along had been pleading for a reasonable and rationale wage increase. In the discussion held on January 13, 2020, the IBA chairman finally offered 12.25 per cent increase, which quite obviously was not acceptable to UFBU and it was decided to launch agitational programme including strike.

The IBA all along has been stating that performance of some banks is not up to the mark to increase as per the demand of UFBU. In the last 20 months, the IBA increased their offer gradually to 12 per cent and recently on January 13, 2020 to 12.25 per cent. The unions have been repeatedly pointing out that IBA should offer higher than 15 per cent as all the banks are doing well and earning operating profits year after year. In the last five years, from 2014-15 to 2018-19, the public sector banks (PSB) made total operating profits of Rs 7,39,114 crores. But due to provisioning of bad debts, euphemistically called as non performing assets (NPA) the PSBs are incurring losses for the last four financial years. During the last five years, 2014-15 to 2018-19, the PSBs had to make provisions of Rs 8,92,972 crores. The lion’s share of the outstanding bad debts is due from the big borrowers. Huge amount of bad debts are being allowed to be resolved at discount rate (average 53 per cent, ranging upto 92 per cent) through Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) 2016, cosmetically called ‘Hair Cut’. During the same five years, the PSBs had written off loans to the tune of Rs 4,81,121 crores. The whole exercise tantamounts to looting of public money. The unions do not subscribe to IBA’s claim about performance of the banks.

Moreover, due to acute shortage of staff in the branches/offices coupled with implementation of different government schemes such as direct benefit transfer (DBT), Aadhaar related works, Jan Dhan Jojana, to name a few, through the bank branches, the workload as well as occupational hazards on the employees and officers have gone up enormously and this needs to be adequately compensated with satisfactory enhancement in their remuneration. In a number of banks, the Reserve Bank of India imposed restrictions on recruitment which also worsened the situation for the bank employees besides having adverse effect on job potentiality.

In PSBs, the pension is not being updated since introduction. With passage of time and skyrocketing price rises of the essential commodities, medicines etc, the retired bank employees have become vulnerable in meeting their daily basic requirements. The family pension is very meagre. All these require to be addressed. Thousands of people in different branches of all the banks are working in casual nature for even more than 10-12 hours a day and are being paid a meagre amount. The strike was meant for providing justice to them also.

All the branches remained closed; the clearing grids did not operate; most of the ATMs also did not function. The two-day strike and preparatory programmes like rallies, demonstrations were participated by all the officers and workmen. The contractual workers, ATM guards, bank mitras also joined the entire programme to make the two-day strike a thunderous success. The UFBU was compelled to go for strike due to the rigid attitude of the IBA in resolving the core issues realising that it will put the common customers into difficulty. This two-day successful strike has given a strong message to the IBA and the government of India and if there is no positive response, UFBU would be forced to march forward with the already announced three-day strike from March 11-13, 2020 and indefinite strike starting from April 1 to achieve the legitimate demands.