The United Forum of Bank Unions, comprising nine unions, with the support of 10 lakh bankers staged a strike on Tuesday against the government’s banking measures, terming them anti-people. About 85,000 branches of commercial banks and 1,05,000 of co-operative banks took part in this strike. Cheque clearances, money transfers, cash remittances, deposits and withdrawals were paralysed. Approximately 40 lakh cheques totalling around Rs 22,000 crore are likely to be affected. The unions argued that their move was necessary as all their efforts to find solutions to the problems faced by the banking sector were being constantly ignored by the government and condemned the government’s Ostrich-like approach in understanding their demands. The unions are demanding compensation to employees for the additional work done during the demonetisation period. They are also against the privatisation of public sector banks, which are the main growth engine of the economy and have been left severely under-capitalised. The government has also not taken any effective measures to recover the bad loans, which are burdening the banking sector and the economy. At a time when the banking sector needs to strengthen its manpower, contract employees are being outsourced.
It’s high time the Central government came out with a mechanism to address the bad loans and recover them from willful defaulters. Bad loans have mounted to over Rs 13 lakh crore and this is not only impacting their balance sheets quarter after quarter, but also limiting their capacity to lend to big ticket projects. Moreover, these bad loans are being written off to clean the balance sheets from the hard-earned profits of the banks, sending wrong signals to the defaulters, devoiding them of any accountability. The government should stop this daylight loot by big corporate houses and industrialists and initiate criminal action on willful defaulters. Willfully neglecting this is going to cost the nation. Banks are also capital-deprived. Estimates show that public-sector banks need around Rs 2 lakh crore to meet growth needs, but the last Budget allocated only Rs 10,000 crore. This will adversely impact the health of these banks. Also, when the banks have two lakh permanent vacancies, it is unfair to recruit contract employees. The existing staff is burdened with work, and when demonetisation was announced, employees and officers worked for long hours without adequate overtime wages and compensation. The unions had been fighting for a long time for a fair wage revision, and improvements in gratuity and pension. As many issues stay unresolved, helpless customers may have to prepare themselves for more such strikes and disruptions in the coming days.