Public Sector Bank Unions Strike Work, Stage Protests

Young Workers Demand Full Disclosure about Demonetiztion

Bank Employees on Protest

As announced several months ago, United Forum of Bank Unions, a platform of nine  National Bank Unions (AIBEA, AIBOC, NCBE, BEFI, AIBOA, INBEF, INBOC, NOBW, NOBO) struck work on 28th Feb 2017 demanding roll back of privatization of banks, outsourcing of jobs, and compensation for excess work done by employees during   demonetization. In a show of force, workers from many public sector banks, came together at Valluvar Kottam in Chennai to state a protest. NOBO and NOBW, affiliates of Bharathiya Mazdoor Sangh with fraternal ties to RSS, did not participate in the national bank strike.

Over  1000 employees, young and old, assembled at the customary protest venue in Chennai raising slogans against the policies of the present Union Government relating specifically to the banking sector and also against proposedemployment and labour reforms. There were a significant number of young bank employees, who had joined such protests for the first time and were raising slogans, and engaged in animated conversations. One young woman, with four years of experience, pointed out that she and her colleagues are participating in  the protest because they were not compensated for the extra work hours put in soon after the demonetization announcement in early November last year. “We are here for what the government promised us. We have slogged through this period, even to this day we have to work extra hours. We have had to face difficult customers and manage them because of the cash crunch. We have to be compensated for this” she said. “I have not participated in protests before, even when there were strikes. This time it is different” she added.

CP Krishnan addressing Workers

The speakers on the dias included, Thomas Franco of AIBOA, Venkatachalam of AIBEA, C.P Krishanan of BEFI. CP Krishnan raised the issue of bad loans and corporate defaulters. Referring to the tragic suicide of Lenin, an engineering student  who was unable to pay back a student loan, he said “while students and farmers kill themselves for not being able to pay small loans, huge corporations and their owners seem to get away from law after defaulting on thousands of crores of un secured loans.

CH Venkatachalam addressing workers

He also demanded that the government stop forcing regulations on PSUs while private banks are treated differently. “There is no data yet on how much money has come back after the demonetization or how many tax evaders have been caught. When we demand answers they say they have sent email notices. How will that suffice? Every one suffered due to demonetization, we need answers, our banks have to be compensated for the loss of business and employees must be paid fair wages for the excess work” he demanded. Similarly other leaders also raised the issue of bad loans. C.H Venkatachalam while appreciating the bank staff for enduring the difficult times and suffering great stress demanded that the government acknowledge their efforts and pain. Calling for recruitment of permanent jobs he demanded an end to contractualization of high value jobs in the banking sector through privatization and outsourcing.

A female employee with 7 years experience reiterated this point while speaking with Thozhillalar Koodam. “Many jobs are being out sourced to different agencies. While many senior staff are retiring, not adequate staff are being recruited. Instead certain tasks are given away to agencies who employ contract workers with no benefits or job security. This is also undermining our jobs” she said opposing the increased privatization of banking sector.

Another young employee who spoke to us on demonetization said that he was in support of the exercise but  found it difficult to say whether it had served its purpose as the government and the RBI have not revealed enough information about this exercise. “We can’t say anything about it. My suspicion is that more money than estimated had returned to the system. But unless data is released on how much has come back, how many accounts are being tracked and how much tax evasion has been detected, it will be hard to say anything”. Narrating his experience during demonetisation, he said it was a hard time given that the government failed to keep its promise of providing enough currency and recalibrating ATMs. “Even after a month we were suffering from lack of funds and non functioning ATMs. That was bad and I am here at the protest only because of these failed promises”, he added.

He felt that while many issues raised by the leaders would come up during tripartite discussions, the government’s actions during demonetization have to be answered.  He reiterated that despite these difficulties, most people were in favour of the move. “Young people were willing to take the pain of demonetization for the greater good of the country. I heard no complaints from young people, some older customers did bring out their frustration. But 18-35 years were very supportive. In the long run, it is good” he said.

Demands raised by Bank Unions

The Bank Unions have presented a charter of demands and vowed to protect nationalized banking and peoples wealth. The unions plan to intensify their protests if the government continues to carry on in this trajectory of privatization, easing corporate default and contractualizing well-paying jobs While the banks unions have claimed that the one day strike has paralyzed banking operations, internet transactions were not affected and most of the private banks were also functioning. Sharing some of his thoughts, a senior leader of a Bank Union maintained that strikes might not be effective anymore in a time of rampant privatization and increased use of digital operations. In this context, it is imperative that bank employees re imagine forms and strategies of struggle so that the working class does not lose control of a critical sector of the economy.

BMS affiliates, NOBO and NOBW, had withdrawn from the united forum’s actions citing that they were averse to the demands about demonetization. It was clear from the interactions with the employees that Demonetization and its impact on their work-life was a critical issue that they wanted to be addressed. Their non participation had a negative effect on the strike. Given that BMS and its affiliates have withdrawn from collective worker actions in the recent past including the All India General Strike, it is also essential that the other unions take a call on engaging with these union bureaucracy in the future and expose their subversive actions to the workers.

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