State-run banks strike work, services hit across country
The strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) -- an umbrella organisation of all nine unions including the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA), National Confederation of Bank Employees (NCBE) and the National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW).
Wednesday's strike follows the one on last Friday by the officers' union of public sector banks (PSBs) to protest against the merger and to demand the immediate settlement of wage negotiations.
AIBEA General Secretary C.H. Venkatachalam told IANS from Chennai that the strike call by the unions, which have a combined membership of 10 lakhs, received "very enthusiastic" response.
"Reports are reaching us from all the states that the strike has been successful... Clearing operations were affected because branches are closed and cheques can't be sent for clearance. Cash transactions have been similarly affected," he said.
"Government treasury operations, import and export bill negotiations, money market operations, etc. have also been affected. About 30 lakh cheques worth about Rs 23 lakh crore will be held up without clearance due to the strike."
Venkatachalam said the protest was joined by unions of 12 private sector lenders like Federal Bank, Dhanalakshmi Bank, Karur Vaishya Bank, Catholic Syrian Bank, Karnataka, Bank, Nainital Bank and Kotak Mahindra, among others.
He said with the last conciliation meeting called by the Additional Chief Labour Commissioner not yielding any assurance on the merger, the unions plan to meet Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to "explore convincing the government to stop the merger, or else we will be forced to step up although our aim is not to disrupt banking operations".
The government approved this first three-bank merger in September.
The Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh-affiliated NOBW Vice President Ashwini Rana said in a statement: "We also feel strongly that the main issue confronting banks, which is increasing bad loans, will get relegated by bringing proposals of consolidation and merger to the fore."
"Government wants to divert nation's attention from the increasing bad loans. We want the government to take tough action to recover bad loans," an AIBEA statement said.
"If loans are recovered, all banks will be more profitable. Already all the 21 government banks are in operating profit (Rs 1,55,000 crore as on 31-3-2018). Only because of provisions for bad loans (Rs 2,30,000 crore), the banks are in net loss of Rs 85,000 crore," it added.
"The nationwide strike in public sector banks against the merger of Bank of Baroda, Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank, is completely successful at least in Kolkata and Delhi as far as I know," said All India Dena Bank Employees Coordination Committee Deputy General Secretary Amitava Ghosh.
The strike also affected banking services in Kolkata.
"Private and foreign banks' branches across the city remained shut. Most of the ATM shutters were down, though ATMs located at the hospitals were kept out of the strike. Clearing activities remained closed," UFBU's West Bengal Convener Siddhartha Khan told IANS.
All banking operations were paralysed in Mumbai with bank staffers responding enthusiastically to the nationwide strike call. The UBFU claimed "100 per cent participation" by the employees and officers from all public sector, old generation private sector and some foreign banks in the strike.
In the afternoon, over 5,000 bank employees staged a rally at Azad Maidan and raised slogans opposing the proposed mergers of Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank by the government.
"Each public sector bank has its own history, geography and culture in the background. If the government bulldozes the decision of the merger, it will put their customers to great hardships," said UBFU leaders who addressed the rally.