Banking staff strike has become an annual feature, sometimes bi-annual event in India that Wednsday witnessed virtual standstill in business operations across the country, diminishing the already staggering business lcimate of the country in the world’s eyes.
Neither the government, which owns most of these banks nor the staff who are used to babu culture over four decades pay concern to the kind of competition ushered into the sector that has a global reach reputation for the country.
More than 8 lakh banking employees of government-owned banks went on a day’s strike to seek a salary hike and other benefits, with the unions sticking to their demands.
The strike was total in some 75,000 branches of 27 state-run banks and the 25,000 branches of 18 private and eight foreign banks, said Vishwas Utagi, senior vice president of the All India Bank Employees Association.
But some branches of private banks were open, indicating the need for more provatisation in banking sector as the government-owned banks are failing in their main business concern of facilitating the business environment. “No bank related activity started anywhere in the country, including the early morning clearing operations,” said the leader, echoing the 1970s culture.
Utagi, also the Maharashtra convenor of United Forum of Banking Unions, an umbrella organisation, estimated that over 10 million cheques will not be cleared Wednesday and could be delayed for up to five days in view of the day-long strike.
Citing official figures, he said the total volume of the Indian banking industry was more than 155 lakh crore ($2.5 trillion), which was blocked by the strike.
ATM machines worked in most places. But in some areas customers complained that the money in some ATMs had exhausted. “The money in ATMs will not be replenished till Thursday morning,” Utagi said.
Said Anand Iyer, a software consultant in Mumbai: “I could withdraw money from ATM. But I’m not quite sure if I can transfer money using net banking.”
This was the first strike by bank employees since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in May. The banking industry last saw a crippling two-day strike in February.
According to C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association, the unions want a wage hike of 23 percent. But the Indian Banks Association (IBA), representing the managements, has offered only 11 percent.
A wage revision had been due since November 2012, said the unions, which were happy that the strike was successful He said the worst hit state was Maharashtra, which alone accounts for a third of business volumes of banks.
The United Forum of Banking Unions is an umbrella grouping of nine unions of employees and officers.
It includes the 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.
In Karnataka, the strike by over 50,000 employees of state-run banks crippled transactions and customer services in about 10,000 branches.
“The response to our strike call is overwhelming. All employees of 27 public sector banks and a dozen old-generation private banks took part in the strike,” union leader A.N. Krishnamurthy told IANS.
The striking employees, including hundreds of women, staged a sit-in near the State Bank of Mysore in Bangalore and raised slogans against managements and the central government.
Banking services were also affected in India’s northeast. “Over 10,000 employees from more than 2,000 nationalised and private bank branches in seven northeastern states took part in the strike,” said United Forum of Bank Unions spokesman Sushobhan Datta Majumder.