Bank strike over reforms hits services across India

Bank strike over reforms hits services across India

Banking operations across India were hit Monday as members of an umbrella trade union of 47 banks began a two-day strike opposing the proposed banking sector reforms and demanding immediate revision in wages.

Over a million bank employees and officers working in 27 public sector banks, including the State Bank of India, 12 private and eight foreign banks and regional rural banks struck work, the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) said.

UFBU is the umbrella organisation of five employee unions and four officer unions of state-run banks. All nine unions under its aegis have given the strike call.

Even though ATMs were functional, operations like branch cash withdrawals, deposits and cheque clearances were particularly affected. 

"All over the country, about 10 crore cheques worth Rs.7,40,000 crore could not be cleared. In Chennai clearing house, about 90 lakh cheques worth about Rs.64,000 crore could not be processed in clearing," C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary, All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA), told IANS from Chennai.

"The instrument value and number would go up further tomorrow (Tuesday) when the strike continues for the second day," he added.

With the strike slated to continue Tuesday, customers face the prospect of ATMs running dry without cash replenishment.

In Karnataka, about 50,000 employees of state-run banks went on strike halting transactions in about 10,000 branches across the state.

"The response to our strike call is overwhelming, as all employees of 27 pubic sector banks and a dozen old generation private banks stayed away from work. We will continue the strike on Tuesday also," United Forum of Bank Unions' (UFBU) Karnataka unit general secretary A.N. Krishnamurthy told IANS. 

UFBU earlier called a strike for Jan 20-21, which was deferred after the Indian Banks Association (IBA) increased its initial wage revision offer to 9.5 percent, from five percent, with a promise to improve it further. 

However, at the discussions on Jan 27, the IBA increased its offer by just 0.5 percent to 10 percent, which was rejected by the UFBU. It has been seeking an increase of 30 percent on the grounds that wage revision has been pending since November 2012.

UFBU said it called the strike as the discussions on wage revision have been very tardy since the last one year.

Government transactions, foreign exchange transactions and money market operations were also affected.

"All our RTGS (Real Time Gross Settlements) involving clearing of payments with banks that are on strike are affected," an executive of a foreign bank based in Delhi and not part of the strike told IANS.

In Mumbai, all branches of public sector banks, private banks, many foreign banks in the city, and the regional rural bank branches were deserted.

"The strike is total. Over a million employees in all these banks, barring the cooperative sector banks, are taking part with around 90,000 bank branches to remain shut for two days for our various demands," AIBEA vice-president Vishwas Utagi told IANS.

Branches of nationalised and foreign banks remained closed in Kolkata as the strikers picketed the gates. Some branches of a couple of private banks opened in the morning hours, but had to down shutters after agitators entered the premises and asked the employees to move out, sources said.

Almost all ATMs of nationalised, private and foreign banks were closed in the eastern metropolis, while a few ATMs of private banks were open till they were got closed in the afternoon by the protestors.

The UFBU includes AIBEA, National Confederation of Bank Employees, Bank Employees Federation of India, Indian National Bank Employees Federation, Indian National Bank Officers Congress, National Organisation of Bank Workers, All India Bank Officers Association, and National Organisation of Bank Officers.

Besides wage revision, the unions are also demanding suitable compensation for risk and responsibility that have increased in the banking sector due to competition and workload pressures.

Rejecting the IBA demand to restrict the strike to a day, All India Bank Officers Confederation general secretary Y. Sudarshan said the employees would stage demonstrations in front of Canara Bank and Vijaya Bank branches in Bangalore Tuesday to press for their demands.

"There is no change in our two-day strike call. Employees of all public sector banks will stay away from work on Tuesday also," he said.

UFBU earlier went on strike on the same issues on Dec 18 last year.

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