Protesting against reforms in the banking sector and outsourcing of non-core activities, nearly one million employees of public sector banks went on a two-day nationwide strike that affected banking operations across major metro cities, including Mumbai.
The strike call was given by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella organisation of nine unions of employees and officers of public sector banks (PSBs). The stir impacted normal banking operations, including cash transactions, cheque clearances and foreign exchange dealings.
In a statement, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) General Secretary C H Venkatachalam said the strike has been successful all over the country. “Banking services have been affected and paralysed,” he added.
According to reports, banking services were nearly crippled in West Bengal and some states in Eastern India while the Shiv Sena affiliated unions in Mumbai did not join the strike.
The strike had an adverse impact on banking services in Tamil Nadu, which has about 7,000 PSU bank branches with about 70,000 employees. The striking employees held demonstrations across the state. According to Tamil Nadu United Forum of Bank Unions Convenor C M Bhaskaran, the government is going ahead with banking reforms and policies aimed at diluting the PSBs.
Bank unions are protesting against reforms such as the Banking Sector Laws Amendment Bill, which seeks to remove restrictions on voting rights of foreign shareholders and increase voting rights of private investors in the PSBs. The Amendment Bill, 2011 contains provisions such as raising of shareholders voting rights from 10% to 26% in private banks and supersession of bank boards. The government-appointed Khandelwal panel had suggested a slew of measures, including more outsourcing of non-core activities in a time-bound manner.
The strike comes a day ahead of an expected approval by Parliament to some changes in rules to allow bigger role for investors in banks. Currently, foreign investors’ stake in domestic PSBs is capped at 20% with some global banks pitching for a hike in their holding limit to help them expand their presence in Asia’s third-largest economy by acquiring the smaller regional banks.
The strike also forced State Bank of India to halt trading in onshore spot foreign exchange markets. There are about 87,000 branches of PSBs employing over a million people.