NEW DELHI : Banking operations across India were partially hit today as employees of two unions sat on a 24-hour bank strike from this morning and another bank officers' union extended full support to them. The unions are protesting against the Narendra Modi government's decision to merge ten public sector banks into four bigger banks.

Reports from several parts of India including Bengaluru, Chennai, Patna, Madhya Pradesh and Kolkata, said banking services like cash withdrawal and deposit at counters as well as cheque clearances were affected.

A report from Madhya Pradesh said around 20,000 employees took part in the bank strike as operations were affected in about 4,800 out of 7,416 branches.

Not much impact was seen in branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) as very few of its employees are members of the All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA) and Bank Employees Federation of India (BEFI) -- the two striking bank unions.

Bank employees’ union leaders had also threatened to shut down ATMs.

An IANS report said around 3 lakh bank employees joined the strike call. According to All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA), clearing of cheques were affected as cheques could not be collected by banks and sent for clearance to the National Payment Corporation.

Several PSU banks like Bank of Baroda, Bank of Maharashtra, Syndicate Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce had already declared that their operations could be paralysed due to the bank strike.

“In the event the strike materializes, the functioning of the branches / offices may be affected / paralyzed," Bank of Baroda had said.

Why are bank unions protesting

Besides several central trade unions, the All India Bank Officers' Association (AIBOA) had also extended support to the strike. AIBOA had clearly asked its members to not join work today.

Supporting the strike call, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) described bank mergers as ‘ill-timed and ill-motivated’. “We appreciate the timely struggle of AIBEA and BEFI and support their all India strike on October 22, 2019. This struggle needs to be further continued and intensified as mergers are a prelude to privatise the Banks," the trade union said.

Last month, too, a group of four unions of bank officers had threatened to go on a two-day strike but following a meeting with government officials, they called off the strike.

After merging Bank of Baroda with Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank, finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman has announced a mega consolidation plan for 10 other PSU banks. According to the plan, United Bank of India and Oriental Bank of Commerce are to be merged with Punjab National Bank, making the proposed entity the second largest public sector bank (PSB). Syndicate Bank is to be merged with Canara Bank, while Allahabad Bank will be merged with Indian Bank. Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank will amalgamate with the Union Bank of India.

The bank unions are also demanding reduction in service charges and penal charges besides an increase in interest rates on bank deposits. With the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cutting its repo rate for the fifth consecutive time this month, bank FD rates have been falling regularly.

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