A two-day strike meant to forestall the need for agitation akin to farmers' protests
Banking services such as cash withdrawals, deposits, cheque clearing and business transactions were impacted across the country on Monday, the first of the PSU bank union's two-day strike against the proposed privatisation of two more state-owned lenders.
United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine unions, had called for a strike on March 15 and 16. It had claimed that about 10 lakh bank employees and officers would participate in the protest.
In the Union Budget presented last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the privatisation of two public sector banks (PSBs) as part of the government's disinvestment plan.
The All India Bank Officers Association (AIBOC) General Secretary Sowmya Dutta said the government policies are going to have ill effects on the economy, as will be reflected in the upcoming polls in some states.
He said nearly all the bank employees have taken part in the strike.
"All banking services are impacted, from cash withdrawals to deposits, business transactions, loan process, cheque clearing, account opening and business transactions," Dutta said.
Dutta believes that the employees on strike have taken out rallies wherever permitted across the country and organised a sit-in. If the government does not heed them, they will go for an even bigger, indefinite strike, much like the farmers and their ongoing agitation.
"We are connected with crores of population through our branches. We are educating our customers about the government's ill policies and how it is going to impact them," Dutta said.
Through the Department of Financial Services, the bank unions have also conveyed to the Finance Minister to withdraw her statement regarding the privatisation of state-owned banks, he added.
All bank employees from the scale I, II and III had a 100 per cent participation across the banking sector in Monday's strike, said a bank official who is not authorised to speak to the media.
"We call them assistant managers, managers and senior managers. At this level, there is 100 per cent participation in the strike and 80-90 per cent branches are headed by them," the official said. They also stated that the bigger branches headed by chief managers or AGMs are said to be about 20 per cent, so even if these senior-level employees are not taking part in the strike, they alone cannot run the bank.
Meanwhile, branches of private sector lenders like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Axis Bank are open as they are not part of the strike.
The government has already privatised IDBI Bank by selling its majority stake in the lender to LIC in 2019, and has merged 14 public sector banks in the last four years.
According to All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) general secretary CH Venkatachalam, services at branch level; cheque clearance; and government transactions have been affected.
Members of the UFBU include All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), National Confederation of Bank Employees (NCBE), All India Bank Officers' Association (AIBOA) and Bank Employees Confederation of India (BEFI).
Others include the Indian National Bank Employees Federation (INBEF), Indian National Bank Officers Congress (INBOC), National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW) and National Organisation of Bank Officers (NOBO).