Bank staff strike work to protest mergers, privatisation and rising NPAs

A strike by bank staff protesting the merger of five associate banks of the State Bank of India with the parent bank has brought banking operations across the country to a standstill.

Nearly a million bank employees from 40-odd private and state-run banks are taking part in the protest strike against the central government's banking policies, including the privatisation of IDBI Bank, rising non-recovery of loans to corporates and the move to merger five associate banks with SBI.

Members of nine unions of the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), including employees and officers of public sector banks, the older private banks and foreign banks with a total of more than 80,000 branches are participating in the strike.

The bank federation of unions is against the decision to merge these major banks in the country which include the State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur (SBBJ), State Bank of Travancore (SBT), State Bank of Patiala (SBP), State Bank of Mysore (SBM) and State Bank of Hyderabad (SBH).

"The All India State Bank Officers' Federation and the All India State Bank of India Staff Federation are members of UFBU. Thus, it is likely that the bank will also be impacted to some extent by the said strike calls," SBI had said in a statement yesterday.

''The strike is on. We are not aware of any case filed by the banks or the Indian Banks Association (IBA) to restrain the nine unions of UFBU (United Forum of Bank Unions) from striking,'' reports quoted CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), as saying.

''We wanted to strike when Parliament is in session. Though the strike is on a Friday, the next day is a full working day for the banks. There will be no bunching of holidays,'' he said.

According to Venkatachalam, the government is imposing the reform measures on the banking sector without taking into consideration the grave consequences of the policies.

The merger move comes at a time when the total bank loans defaulted by borrowers stand at Rs58,792 crore, with bad loans of the government owned banks accounting for Rs5,39,995 crore as of 31 March 2016.

After an order by the Delhi High Court, bank unions had deferred a two-day strike for 12 and 13 July.

A conciliation meeting with the Chief Labour Commissioner on 26 July did not yield any positive results though UFBU was willing to reconsider the strike call if the government considers their demand and addresses it, Venkatachalam said.

"The unions were ready for meaningful discussion, but the government only tried to justify their present policy decision on banking reforms and hence, there was no meeting point," he had explained, trying to justify the proposed action.

Ashwani Rana, vice president of the National Organisation of Bank Workers, another affiliate of UFBU, said the strike call stands for Friday, but banks will work as usual on Saturday.