Bank unions protest cover-up of bank losses; to strike work on Tuesday

Employees of state-run banks have threatened to strike work on Tuesday against the government's proposed consolidation move that, they say, would endanger many a job and block future employment prospects in the banking sector.

Bank employees under the banner of the United Front of Bank Unions (UFBU), a federation of nine bank unions, have also raises various other demands, which include a "no write-off" policy for non-performing assets (NPAs) of corporate loans, declaring wilful default of loans as criminal offence and implementation of recommendations of Parliamentary Committee on recovery of NPAs, AIBEA general Secretary C H sVenkatchalam said.

He also suggested that banks should not pass on the burden of corporate NPAs on bank customers by hiking charges.

Venkatchalam said the government should abolish the Banks Board Bureau and instead take stringent measures to recover bad loans and ensure accountability of top executives.

Private sector lenders like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank are expected to function normally while the strike at the majority state-run banks could affect cheque clearing operations.

The bank unions said they decided to go ahead with the strike on 22 August as talks with the central government have failed. The UFBU had given the call for the strike on 22 August pressing various demands, including end to mergers and privatizations, which only help to cover up losses and management failures.

''In response to the strike notice, the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) called the UFBU for discussions on August 16 to explore the possibility of averting the strike. During the meeting, the IBA could not commit to resolve any of the demands; it just stated that all these are policy issues of the government but appealed to the unions to withdraw the strike,'' UFBU said in a statement.

As announced earlier, nearly a million employees and officers of various banks all over the country would observe the strike, the UFBU said in the statement. ''The strike is likely to affect banking services but we regret that the Centre and the IBA were not eager to resolve the issues; this has forced the unions to go ahead with the strike,'' it added.

AK Nayak, chief labour commissioner at the ministry of labour, had a meeting with both the IBA and the UFBU.

During this meeting, UFBU representatives urged the IBA and the Centre to make assurance not to pursue mergers and privatisations and resolve other demands amicably. Since no such assurance was given, the UFBU said it has decided to go ahead with the strike.

The United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) is an umbrella body of nine unions, including All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW).

''As the conciliation meeting before the Chief Labour Commissioner failed, unions are left with no other option but to go on strike. There was no assurance from the government and the management of banks,'' AIBOC general secretary D T Franco said.

All attempts to hammer out solutions to the demands raised by the unions bore no fruit and hence, UFBU decided to proceed with the proposed strike on August 22, he said.

UFBU, which claims membership of nearly 1 million bank employees across banks, also requested the government for cost reimbursement of demonetisation to banks.