Employees in the banking sector organised a successful two day strike on August 22-23, 2012. The strike was called against the reforms in the banking sector either proposed or already being implemented, in the interests of the capitalist monopolies. These reforms include selective implementation of the Khandelwal Committee recommendations, outsourcing, arbitrary rules related to working conditions of employees, closure of rural branches, etc. Over 10 lakh employees participated in the strike action, which brought banking to a complete halt in 87,000 branches across 27 Public Sector Banks, 12 private sector banks, and 8 foreign banks. The strike was organised under the aegis of the United Bank Forum Union. The context of the strike was the move of the government, at the behest of the capitalists, to introduce the "Banking law amendment bill, 2011", which is being vigorously opposed by the employees of all banks. On 22 August 2012, Bank workers of different banks in Delhi participated in a massive protest rally outside the State Bank of India Headquarters in Parliament Street.
On this occasion, the correspondent of Mazdoor Ekta Lehar interviewed Shri Harvinder Singh, the General Secretary of the AINBOF and Vice President of the AIBOC. Below are excerpts of the interview:
MEL: What are the issues over which the employees of banks have called this strike?
Shri Harvinder Singh: We, the bank employees from all across the country, are protesting against the introduction today of the anti-worker anti-national Banking law Amendment Bill 2011 in parliament. This amendment has a clause increasing the voting rights of private capitalists from 10% to 26 % in private banks, and from 1% to 10% in Public Sector Banks. If this amendment is enacted, the control of the country's banking sector will pass into private hands. The capitalists will fashion policies according to their interests. Those stated aims of serving the masses of people, on the basis of which the nationalisation of banks was justified, will be violated.
The situation today is that even though formally the banks are in the public sector, the capitalists owe over Rs 1 lakh crores to these banks in the form of Non Performing Assets. The government has no interest in recovering these loans; on the contrary it has put pressure on banks to write off these loans. This is resulting in losses for the Public Sector Banks. Once the banks come under the control of private capitalists, they will use the savings of the people to maximise their profits. They will not even return the savings of the people. This is the reason we bank employees are vigorously opposing the Banking Law Amendment Bill 2011.
The second issue we are agitating over relates to the Khandelwal Committee recommendations. The brief set before this Committee was to recommend on human resources related questions. This Committee has far exceeded its brief in terms of its recommendations. More than half of its recommendations have been rejected by the government. Of those recommendations which the government has accepted, some are such that if implemented, will lead to ruination of banking sector.
We employees of banks have repeatedly raised that before the Khandelwal Committee gave its recommendations, it was duty bound to hold consultations with the employees and their unions. This was never done. Any new policy in the banking sector can only be implemented after discussion with the unions of officers and workmen. In our sector, there are bipartite agreements. Only after coming to agreement, are policies implemented. However, the Indian Banks Association (IBA) has been implementing the Khandelwal Committee recommendations on the basis of orders of the government of India, without following this due process.
The third issue we are agitating about is that in the case of the unexpected death of an employee while in service, a member of his or her family must be offered a job in the bank. Such a provision exists in all government institutions, why is it that only bank employees are denied this?
The fourth issue we are agitating about is the practice of outsourcing banking work on contract. What is happening is that the work that should be carried out by regular employees, and is in fact being done efficiently, is being outsourced. There is super exploitation of young workers who are paid very low wages. We are fighting for all these workers to be absorbed as regular workers, and that there is no contract labour.
MEL: Which are the unions and federations of the Bank employees who are participating in this strike?
Shri Harvinder Singh: This strike has been called by the United Bank Forum Union. There are 9 affiliates to this Union. These 9 unions between them represent the officers and workers of all the banks. They include the All India Bank Officers Confederation, All India Bank Employees Association, All India National Confederation of Bank Employees, All India Bank Officers Association, Indian National Bank Officers Congress, Indian National Bank Employees Federation, National Organisation of Bank Workers.