About a lakh employees of 22 state-run and affiliated banks in Karnataka participated in the nationwide two-day strike called by bank employees' trade unions to press for wage revision and other benefits, a trade union official said on Wednesday.
"The response to our strike call has been total as about one lakh bank employees, including officers, are staying away from work across the state in support of our demands, especially wage revision," All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC) General Secretary Y. Sudarshan told IANS in Bengaluru.
About 8,000 employees, including 2,000 women, participated in a two-hour demonstration in the city centre to protest against the "indifference" of the Indian Banks' Association (IBA) to their demands.
There are about 10,000 bank branches across the state, including 3,000 in and around Bengaluru, with the State Bank of India (SBI) accounting for 1,000 of them after it merged its associate banks like SBM and SBH with it recently.
Admitting that banking operations have been affected due to the nationwide strike, Sudarshan said the onus was on the IBA and the government as the wage revision for the 2018-23 period had been overdue since a year.
"There has been no progress on our talks with the IBA and the government through the Labour Commissioner, as the representatives of the banks' apex body are unwilling to increase their offer for 2 per cent hike, which is a pittance and not acceptable to us at any cost."
Though all transactions, cheque clearances, loan approvals and inter-bank operations have come to a standstill, banks have stocked their ATMs with adequate cash to ensure retail customers are not impacted.
However, private banks, including ICICI, HDFC, Axis and Kotak Mahindra, are open for business.
Rejecting the IBA's contention that banks were unable to bear the burden of huge losses as loans or advances turned into NPAs (non-performing assets) for various reasons, Sudarshan said the wages for employees and officers were a meagre Rs 4,475 crore per annum for the previous five years (20012-17).
"In the past too, after repeated strikes and protests, the IBA had reluctantly increased our wages 15 per cent as against 17.5 per cent in the previous bipartite agreement even when there were NPAs, albeit in lesser amounts."
Justifying their demand for wage revision in double digits, Sudarshan said unions were asking for parity with their counterparts in central and state governments, state-run enterprises, defence and other personnel who are benefiting from the 7th Pay Commission recommendations.
"In which way we are different from other government employees to be denied what is due for us as we also contribute to the development and growth of the economy. Over 80 per cent of bank loan defaulters are corporates whose funds are cleared by boards and executives," he added.