The pan-India strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions to protest against the Union government's decision to privatise two more state-run lenders this fiscal.

A lock at the grills in front of a bank, with the empty bank visible in the background
news Bank strike Friday, December 17, 2021 - 10:32
Written by  Inputs PTI

Lakhs of employees of public sector banks continued their strike on the second day on Friday as well to protest against proposed privatisation of banks by the government impacting normal operation across the country. Shutters of branches across many parts of the country on Friday, December 17, were down following the strike call given by the United Forum of Bank Union (UFBU), an umbrella body of nine bank unions including All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW).

As a result, services such as deposits and withdrawal at branches, cheque clearance and loan approvals remains paralaysed due to the two-day strike ending later in the day. Public sector lenders, including State Bank of India, had informed customers that services in their branches might be affected due to the strike.

However, the private sector, especially new generation private sector lenders, like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank and Kotak Mahindra Bank, are working as usual.

The strike is against the government's decision to privatise public sector banks which have been playing a vital role in nation building, (AIBEA) general secretary C H Venkatachalam said. AIBOC General Secretary Soumya Dutta said that about 7 lakh across the country are participating in the two-day strike.

Banking operations were also affected across the country on Thursday, December 16, as close to nine lakh employees of public sector banks went on protest.

The government had in Budget 2021-22 announced its intent to take up privatisation of two PSBs during the year. Shutters of many branches of PSBs like State Bank of India (SBI), Punjab National Bank and Bank of India were down on Thursday with a message informing customers about the strike.

Apart from PSBs, some employees from old generation private sector banks and regional rural banks also joined the strike, unions said. Bank employees right from sweepers to senior executives in scale 5 are observing the two-day strike on December 16 and 17, they said.

According to AIBEA General Secretary C H Venkatachalam, about 20.4 lakh cheques worth Rs 18,600 crore could not be transacted on Thursday. Public sector lenders, including SBI, had earlier informed customers that services in their branches might be affected due to the strike. "PSBs act as catalysts in the economic development of our nation in general and particularly for the underprivileged sections of the society and backward regions of the country.

"Nationalised banks have played a major role in the development of agriculture, small trade, small business, SSI, transport and in upliftment of weaker sections of the society," Venkatachalam said.

AIBOC General Secretary Soumya Dutta said it is unfortunate that operations of over 1 lakh branches of banks and regional rural banks have been impacted due to the strike because of the government's attitude. Venkatachalam said many political parties including Congress, DMK, CPI, CPM, TMC, NCP and Shiv Sena have extended their support to the strike.

UFBU's Convenor (Maharashtra) Devidas Tuljapurkar said employee unions from Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) and Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have also supported the strike. Around 60,000 PSB staffers in Maharashtra joined the strike. In Mumbai, approximately 5,000 bank employees held a protest at Azad Maidan, he said. UFBU's Convenor (West Bengal) Goutam Niyogi claimed the strike in the state was total.

Besides the two-day strike, a series of other agitations will be carried out if the government does not give up the idea of privatising PSBs, AIBOC General Secretary Sanjay Das said.

Das said the move to privatise state-owned lenders will hurt the priority sectors of the economy as well as credit flow to self-help groups and the rural economy.

According to him, 70% of the country's total deposits are with PSBs and handing them over to private capital will put the common man's money at risk. A section of bank employees, representing the All India Bank Employees Union, wore black badges and staged a protest in Chennai, raising slogans against the Union government's move.

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) threw its weight behind the strike by offering its 'total support' to the protest. The DMK was extending its support to the strike after union representatives apprised party president and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin on the just reasons behind the agitation, party General Secretary Durai Murugan had said.

In the Union Budget presented in February, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the privatisation of two PSBs as part of the Union government's disinvestment plan. To facilitate privatisation, the government has listed the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021, for introduction and passage during the current session of Parliament.

The government has already privatised IDBI Bank by selling its majority stake in the lender to LIC in 2019 and merged 14 public sector banks in the past four years.