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Bankers to PM – ‘United We Fall’

Public sector bank unions have announced the fourth strike in 20 days, in protest against the mega bank merger and also against reforms initiated by the Modi government in the banking sector.

Two bank employee unions – All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) – have asked their members to join the Bharat Bandh on January 8 and 9, 2019. If the strike succeeds, banks will be open for only three days this week, as there is a second Saturday coming up. The strike will only impact public sector banks (PSBs).

The Bharat Bandh has been called by ten central trade unions to protest against what they allege to be the government’s anti-worker policies and unilateral labour reforms. These include INTUC, AITUC, HMS, CITU, AIUTUC, AICCTU, UTUC, TUCC, LPF and SEWA. Amarjeet Kaur, General Secretary, AITUC, estimates that around 20 crore workers could join the strike.

Employee unions of public sector banks are expected to congregate outside to protest on issues that are affecting their industry. This will not affect private sector banks as well as some public sector banks including SBI, Indian Overseas Bank and Bank of India. This is the fourth bank strike in 20 days. The last two on December 21 and 26 were also organized to protest against the merger of Bank of Baroda, Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank.

According to the unions, the merger is not in favour of the banks or their customers. The United Forum of Bank Unions says, “This merger will see a large number of branches getting closed and customers will have to face hardships as already banks are burdened with the implementation of various government schemes such as Jan Dhan Yojana, Mudra, social security insurance, and Prime Minister’s housing scheme, among others.”

In a draft appeal to the PM, the All India Bank Officers’ Confederation says that mergers like these will lead to the rise of private sector banks at the cost of public sector banks. While the Finance Minister has stated that there will be no job losses, the petition fears that the merger will ultimately lead to “decline in job opportunities, youth unemployment, lack of systematic job profiles with huge pendency of disparate work processes among merged banks and entities and huge debt ridden NPAs”.

Another issue is that bank unions are dissatisfied with the pay scales. Bank managements have asked the Indian Bank Association to negotiate wages for them in scale 1-3, but unions want it to be raised to scale 7.

A strike call notice has also alleged that government reforms are hurting employees in the banking, insurance and the rest of the financial sector. The unions state in this regard, “Regular, permanent, perennial jobs are being replaced by casual, temporary, contractual and fixed-term jobs. From job-oriented growth, it became jobless growth and now it is growth with job losses.”

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