‘Most ATMs worked, but other services came to a standstill’

Banking services in the State were severely disrupted on Wednesday as more than 70,000 bank employees joined the nationwide two-day strike to protest against the Union government’s move to introduce “reforms” in the banking industry. “Although most of the ATMs were working, all work in banks that require human intervention came to a standstill,” said B.S. Ravindra, convener of the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), the platform of nine bank unions. Foreign exchange transactions were affected because the operations of the largest Indian bank, the State Bank of India, were severely hit.

H. Vasanth Rai, general secretary, Karnataka Pradesh Bank Employees’ Federation, an affiliate of the All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA), said the strike evoked “a massive response”. He said fund transfers and clearing of cheques were severely affected.

G.D. Nadaf, general secretary, All India State Bank Officers’ Federation (AISBOF), said the widespread use of outsourced servicing of ATMs would ensure that ATMs would not run dry on Thursday. “Ironically, one of the major issues raised by us pertains to the increasing outsourcing by banks in all aspects of their business,” Mr. Nadaf said. He said more than 7,000 employees of the State Bank of India Group in the State — 4,000 workers and 3,000 officers — participated in the strike.

The strike, spearheaded by the UFBU, an umbrella that represents the interests of more than 10 lakh workers and officers in the industry, is mainly against the government’s move to amend banking regulations aimed at giving private and foreign entities a greater say in the boards of banks. The UFBU has protested against the move to lift the cap on voting rights of foreign entities holding shares in Indian banks.

‘Rampant outsourcing’

“We are also protesting against the rampant outsourcing of work in banks,” Mr. Rai said. “Banks are outsourcing more work even as they have clamped down on fresh recruitment,” he said. Operations relating to security, operation and maintenance of ATMs, clearing of cheques and computer hardware operations are being increasingly outsourced, he said. “Some banks are even outsourcing work at the counters in branches,” he said. The branches of the “new generation private banks” such as the ICICI, HDFC and ING Vysya worked on Wednesday. “Our unions have been unable to make inroads into these banks,’ admitted Mr. Rai. Most of the workers and officers in these banks are employed on contract, enjoy no security of tenure, and are beyond the pale of the Industrial Disputes Act, which guarantees a measure of protection to workers, Mr. Rai said. He said the unions are planning to organise these contract workers in a separate union, demanding that they be either absorbed as permanent employees or be given pay on a par with regular workers.

Bank employees held a rally in the city. Mr. Ravindra said demonstrations were also held at district headquarters across the State. The UFBU has directed its constituents to organise separate demonstrations by employees of various banks on Thursday.

Outsourced contractors service about 60 per cent of the ATMs, said Mr. Ravindra. The remaining, which are serviced by the banks themselves, may be, he added. About 3,000 branches of 26 public sector banks and 12 old-generation private sector banks were affected by the strike.

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