Relief for common man as two-day bank strike ends

The two-day strike by employees of public sector banks, which had impacted the banking operations, has ended today, to the relief of and harassed customers.

The banks, and indirectly the government, lost nearly Rs30,000 crore in the two-day strike by over 800,000 employees of the public sector banks, and the common man hit particularly hard in rural areas.

With ATMs going dry on Sunday itself in some places and as they could not be refilled due to strike, people in remote areas had to travel several kilometres in search of ATMs that had cash.

According to the vice president of the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) Vishwas Utagi, about 10 crore cheques worth Rs7,40,000 crore could not be cleared. Government transactions, foreign exchange transactions and money market operations were also affected. Services such as cheque clearances and withdrawing and depositing of money in PSU bank branches were affected (See: Strike halts banking operations across the country).

Private sector banks such as ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank functioned normally because their staff was not on strike.

On Tuesday finance minister P Chidambaram had said that it cannot be that all bank profits are used to declare dividend and to provide enhanced wages and allowances to bank employees.

"I will appeal to employees and officers of banks to recognise that banks profits, banks earnings have other claims. While claims of officers, staff and employees must be duly acknowledged, and a fair and just (wage) settlement is arrived at, there are other claimants to banks' profit," he had said.

All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) general secretary and Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta was quick to slam the finance minister's comments. He wondered how the banks, while refuse higher wages to its employees, could waive bad loans of big corporates, causing severe loss to the banks. While the NPAs of big corporates were ignored or waived, the small defaulters were made to suffer with punitive action, he charged.

The strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) to protest the refusal of the Indian Banks' Association's (IBA) of to its demand for increased wages as the previous wage agreement lapsed on 31 October 2012.

The UFBU is not accepting the claim of IBA that banks cannot afford to pay higher salaries to their employees.

It pointed out that the combined profits of banks had risen by 250 per cent from Rs19,680 crore in 2006-07 to Rs48,700 crore in 2012-13. It rejected a 10-per cent increase in salary offered by IBA. Even a 10-per cent hike in wages would cost about Rs3,000 crore to the banks.