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New Delhi: State Bank of India on Monday clarified that its proposed voluntary retirement scheme for over 30,000 employees is not a cost-cutting measure but is instead a "congenial solution" for its staff.

"There have been media reports about the “On Tap VRS" scheme proposed to be introduced by SBI. The reports have been interpreted as a cost-cutting measure and Bank’s intent to reduce workforce. Bank has been employee friendly and is expanding its operations and requires people, which is evidenced by the fact that Bank has plans of recruiting more than 14,000 employees this year," the state-owned lender said in an official release.

According to sources, a draft scheme for VRS has been prepared and board approval is awaited.

The proposed scheme -- 'Second Innings Tap VRS-2020' -- is aimed at optimising human resources and costs of the bank.

Besides, the draft scheme, seen by PTI, said it will provide an option and a respectable exit route to employees who have reached a level of saturation in their career, may not be at the peak of their performance, have some personal issue or want to pursue their professional or personal life outside the bank.

The scheme will be opened to all permanent officers and staff who have put in 25 years of service or completed 55 years of age on the cut-off date.

The scheme will open on December 1 and will remain open till the end of February, it said, adding that applications for VRS will be accepted during this period only. The total employee strength of country's largest lender stood at 2.49 lakh at the end of March 2020 as compared to 2.57 lakh a year ago.

"SBI has an existing workforce of around 2.50 lacs and has been in the forefront of serving employee needs and designing ways and means for engaging and assisting employees in their life journey. In this backdrop, it was thought to provide a congenial solution to employees who expressed desire for making strategic shift in their vocations, either due to professional growth limitations, mobility issues, physical health conditions or family situations. While our commitment towards our valued employees remains unshakable, we are deeply desirous of skilling the unemployed youth of the country, as is evidenced by the fact that we are the only Bank in the country which has onboarded Apprentices under the National Apprenticeship Scheme of Govt of India," the bank further said.

The scheme will open on December 1 and will remain open till the end of February, it said, adding that applications for VRS will be accepted during this period only.

As per the proposed eligibility criteria, a total of 11,565 officers and 18,625 staff members will be eligible for the scheme.

The total net savings for the bank would be 1,662.86 crore if 30 per cent of eligible employees opt for retirement under the scheme, as per estimates based on July 2020 salary, it said.

"The staff member whose request for retirement under VRS is accepted will be paid an ex-gratia amounting 50 per cent of salary for the residual period of service (up to the date of superannuation), subject to a maximum of 18 months' last drawn salary," it said.

Other benefits like gratuity, pension, provident and medical benefits will be given to employees seeking VRS.

A staff member retired under the scheme will be eligible for engagement or re-employment in the bank after a cooling-off period of two years from the date of retirement.

Ahead of amalgamation of SBI's five associates with it in 2017, the merging subsidiaries had announced VRS for their employees.

In 2001 also the bank had announced VRS with the objective to optimise human resources.

However, the proposed VRS scheme is not finding favour with bank unions.

Such a move at a time when the country is in the grip of COVID-19 pandemic reflects anti-worker attitude of management, National Organisation of Bank Workers Vice President Ashwani Rana said.

Congress leader P Chidambaram on Monday slammed the reported State Bank of India (SBI) plan to implement a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) at a time when the economy has collapsed and called it cruel.

"News reports say that SBI plans to implement a VRS scheme as an 'economy measure'. In normal times the plan would be debatable. In these abnormal times, when the economy has collapsed and jobs are scarce, it is cruel," Chidambaram tweeted.

"If India's biggest lender has to shed jobs, imagine what other big employers and MSMEs are doing. The plan is ostensibly voluntary but we know that subtle pressure will be brought on the employees that the Bank wants to get rid of. If the current rules provide for genuine voluntary retirement, why announce a new plan and give out an exact number like 30,190?" he added.

With PTI inputs

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