Bank staff pact, a retrograde step

The terms agreed to by the Indian Banks Association and staff unions to avert last month’s four-day strike threatened by the latter are not in the interest of the customers or the banks themselves. 

The banks would actually have been paralysed for five days with a Sunday following the four days of strike. The strike was tactically planned to disrupt financial operations in the last week of February when attention to economic and financial matters would be high with the presentation of Budget and the economic survey.

The managements seem to have succumbed to the pressure, agreed to give a 15 per cent salary hike and allowed banks to remain closed on two Saturdays in a month.  Talks on the demands of the bank staff have been going on for a long time and the present settlement will be in force till 2017. It will benefit about 8.5 lakh employees, mostly belonging to the public sector banks. 

The agreement to keep the banks closed on two Saturdays in a month is a very customer-unfriendly decision. Making the other two Saturdays full working days does not help the customer much. Extension of the working time by a few hours on two Saturdays will not make any difference to the customers, but the closure of banks on two full days will certainly be inconvenient.

It suits the staff because a half-day on a Saturday is in any case lost to work and the price of a few more hours in office is too small for two holidays. The bank staff had actually asked for a five-day week. The argument that internet, mobile banking and ATMs have made physical access to banks irrelevant is wrong because these facilities are used by only a small section of customers.

The decision goes against the need to increase financial inclusion through better access to banks. Clearing operations and other banking facilities will certainly be impacted by the new holiday scheme. Banks should have considered the interests of customers more important than those of the staff.

The 15 per cent salary increase is to be implemented with retrospective effect from November 2012. It will amount to an outgo of an additional Rs 4,725 every year. It is for the banks to decide how much they should pay their employees but the general public cannot dissociate the decision from the reality of bad finances of public sector banks and the poor service often rendered to the customers. It has also been noted that it will have some inflationary impact.

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