PSU banks in south closed for day as employees launch zone-wise relay strike

Public sector bank employees today launched a zone-wise relay strike to press their demand for a wage hike with staff of the southern region going on a day's strike today.

This will be followed by a similar strike by northern zone staff tomorrow, followed by strike by eastern zone staff the day after (4 December) and strike by employees of western region on 5 December.

With most public sector banks closed, the strike called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), which represents employees of all nationalised banks, has affected banking services such as cheque clearing and issue of demand draft.

The employees are demanding early conclusion of the wage revision settlement for the bank staff which is due from 1 November 2012.

"Due to high inflation and heavy increase in workload, a reasonable wage revision is justified. Unfortunately, the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) is willing to offer only 11 per cent increase over the existing wage bill, which is inadequate, said C H Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), a part of the UFBU.

''Unions are willing to negotiate their demands and accept a reasonable wage hike but IBA's tough stand is provoking more and more strike in Banks," he added.

Bank employees had held strikes and protest in December 2013, February 2014 and November 2014.

The Indian Banks Association (IBA), which represents bank managements, had earlier stated that wage negotiations have reached a stalemate as the employees demand is too high to meet and that IBA is unwilling to go beyond the 11 per cent wage hike it has offered because of ''difficult'' financial conditions of the banks.

Bank unions, on the other hand, say the financial difficulties of banks are not of their making and that it could be addressed if banks take effective measures to recover huge bad loans to corporate. 

A meeting between IBA and employees union representatives earlier last month failed to reach a conclusion, and hence the decision to go on strike between 2 and 5 December, an AIIBA official said.

''The relay zonal strike programme being launched by unions / associations from December 2, 2014, is unreasonable, unethical and unwarranted,'' IBA said in a statement.

The bank managements have often cited rising non-performing assets (NPAs) of the banking system for their inability to pay higher wages. Even in the previous wage-settlement round, banks had given a 16.5 per cent hike.

According to Vishwas Utagi, vice-president, All-India Bank Employees Association, the NPAs are not the employees' making. ''Who is responsible for the NPA? Bring those responsible to book. Why should regular bank employees suffer?''

Public sector banks follow a five-year wage-settlement process, at the end of which wages are renegotiated.

The last such bipartite settlement expired in October 2012 and a revision was due from 1 November 2012. However, due to prolonged discussions, there has been no substantial headway on this.

Other demands of the bank employees include a five-day working week, regulated working hours, recruitment of additional staff and pension scheme on the lines offered to central government employees.