People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 24, 2008
Bank Employees Prepare For All India Strike On Feb 25 - 26
C P Krishnan
ABOUT ten lakh bank employees and officers all over the country working in the public and private sector banks are on the war path. They successfully observed a day's strike on January 25, 2008 at the call of UFBU (United Forum of Bank Employees), an umbrella organisation consisting of nine trade unions including Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) and are making all out preparations for the successful conduct of two days' strike on February 25-26, 2008. The issues involved are opposition to merger proposal of public sector banks, outsourcing of bank's jobs, demand of one more option for existing pension scheme, filling up of one and a half lakh jobs through fresh recruitment, restoration of compassionate ground employment and early conclusion of the wage revision that has fallen due. If the demands are not concluded to the satisfaction of the employees and officers, they have decided to intensify the agitation by launching an indefinite strike from the last week of March 2008.
The bankers and the government combine are taking every possible step to merge public sector banks in tune with the first Narasihmam Committee recommendations of 1991. The committee recommended for merger of public sector banks which should result in reduction of the number of banks, 'right sizing' of the branches and the staff which obviously means their drastic reduction. This is proposed in the name of competing with the multi national banks. The reality is that even if all the 27 public sector banks are merged together, their combined capital is in nowhere near the bank which is in the 20th position in the world order. Therefore it is easy to understand that this is a myth. The merger is proposed to move faster towards class banking from somewhat mass banking of the present day. The chairman of State Bank of India claims that he could sanction Rs 5000 crores of loan to Tata group for acquiring Cores Company in five minutes. If several such loans are to be sanctioned, banks should be merged to grow into mega size banks is the argument of the bankers. Already due to the economic policy followed by the successive governments at the centre including the present UPA government, the number of dollar billionaires is on the increase on the one hand and on the other farmers suicides are increasing in alarming proportions. The merger proposal, if comes into action, will accentuate this situation by increasing the number of large quantum of loans at the cost of the priority sector lending. Further, the India Banks Association in the month of August 2007 made a recommendation to the government of India to reduce the minimum government holding in the public sector banks to 26 percent from the present 51 percent which means privatisation of the public sector banks. Merger of public sector banks is one step prior to privatisation of public sector banks and that is the reason this proposal is resolutely opposed by the UFBU.
One more option for pension in its present form is another major demand of the bank employees. The present pension scheme of the central and state government employees is under attack. For those who joined the services after 2004, a new pension scheme is envisaged which does not guarantee the defined benefit available at present. Such a threat looms large in the banking industry also. According to the calculations an actuary recognised by the central government, the additional cost involved shall be in the order of Rs 4700 crores which can be mustered in a period of 10 to 12 years. Thus the additional burden of the bankers shall be around Rs 400 crores annually. The UFBU offered to bear a portion of the additional cost thus reducing the burden of the bankers to some extent. It is to be noted that the write off amount of corporate loans of the banking sector is more than Rs 15,000 crores every year. Still the bankers-government combine are very adamant sticking to the stand that this issue would not be considered. On the other hand, State Bank management is ready to offer pension as a third retirement benefit to the staff of State Bank of Saurashtra, if that bank is merged with SBI. What an irony? When pension option could not be offered once again to 2,88,000 bank employees as a second retirement benefit with a meager increase in the cost, how could pension be extended to the staff of subsidiary banks of SBI as a third retirement benefit?
The volume of the business of the public sector banks in the period of six years from 2001 to 2007 has increased by 170 percent; the per employee business mix has gone up by 190 percent; the gross profit has risen up by 205 percent whereas the number of staff has gone down by 78,000. Even with the advent of the new technology like core banking solutions (CBS), it is the hard reality that workers and officers of the banking industry are forced to work beyond their stipulated working hours without any compensation under duress. The transfer and the disciplinary action are the weapons in the hands of the management to force the labour to toil, violating the provisions of the bipartite settlement.
On the other hand, several agencies are appointed to outsource the bank jobs of continuous and perennial in nature. The latest bipartite settlement provided for outsourcing IT and its related activities in respect of specialised areas where, in house capabilities are not available. But the managements of various banks are outsourcing jobs which are in no way related to IT and where in house capabilities are available in abundance. The cleaning of the premises, security, filling up of cash in ATMs, transportation of cheques and instruments to the service branch from braches and vice versa are some of the jobs that are outsourced thus rendering the existing staff surplus.
Besides that, nowadays, even core activities like deposit mobilisation, small loans, issuance of credit and debit cards, loan recovery etc., are sought to be outsourced. Several agencies and individuals are appointed for this purpose on contract basis. This is in gross violation of the settlements in vogue. The whole idea is to increase the profit by hook or crook. Due to this, the job security of the existing employees is under threat, the youth are denied dignified labour, the social justice is denied, and the money and the secrets of the customers are in danger. Recently, the IBA has black listed 22 outsourced agencies out of which 13 have been engaged by ICICI bank and 9 by HDFC bank. The reasons pointed out by IBA for black listing are "submission of forged documents indicating dishonesty and lack of integrity, leakage of customer data, failure to meet statutory liabilities, involvement in frauds etc." Still learning no lesson from the past experience, the bankers-government combine are very adamant in outsourcing bank jobs. This is opposed by the unions tooth and nail.
Restoration of the compassionate ground employment to widows of the deceased is one of the demands. The bankers and the government under one pretext or the other, refuse to restore this scheme which had been in vogue for more than four decades even when the banks were in private hands. Early conclusion of the wage revision which has fallen due is another important demand. The IBA is yet to invite the unions even for preliminary discussions since according to them, they are yet to receive the mandate from all the banks to negotiate wage revision on their behalf. The uniformity in wage and service conditions to all the employees of all the banks irrespective of their size and whether they are in public or private sector is the thread that unites the ten lakh bank employees and officers for fighting for retention of their hard won rights and privileges and for achieving fresh ones under the banner of UFBU. This thread is sought to be cut in the name of performance linked wages. This is totally unacceptable to the bank employees as a whole. The past attempts of the bankers and the government to divide the employees in the name of weak banks met with utter failure. Therefore the bank employees are determined to see that uniform wage revision is achieved with whatever price they may have to pay.
In a nutshell, the policy of the government at the centre is to do away with job security, social security and social justice. The bank employees of the country are determined to fight the battle against this evil design of the government, unitedly with all the might at their command.