Daylong strike affects banking operations in India

Mumbai, Jan 25(IANS) Operations at an estimated 50,000 branches of nationalised banks across the country were affected Friday as workers proceeded on a daylong strike to protest the proposed merger of State Bank of India (SBI), India’s largest commercial bank, with its associates.

Some 1.2 million employees, who struck work following a call by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), an umbrella organisation of nine bank unions, were also protesting the large-scale entry of foreign banks in the country.

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In addition to cash transactions, the treasury and foreign exchange operations were also hit. The unions have called for a similar two-day strike Feb 25-26 if their demands were not met, followed by an indefinite strike end-March.

“Our talks failed. We are on strike,” said C.H. Venkatachalam, convenor of UFBU and joint secretary of the All India Bank Employees Association. “We are not convinced by the benefits of a merger between SBI and its associates.”

The talks were held Thursday among the Chief Labour Commissioner, the SBI top brass and the unions over the merger issue. The unions had also met SBI chairman O.P. Bhatt Monday but the meeting remained inconclusive.

“The merger will lead to concentration of bank resources and reduce the number of branches. Only the metros will benefit out of it and rural areas will get neglected,” added UFBU’s Maharashtra’s convener S.D. Dhopeshwarkar.

The strike affected operations of all state-run banks as well as foreign banks, the unions claimed. But employees of some private banks like ICICI Bank, Yes Bank, Axis Bank and HDFC Bank did not join because they do not have unions.

The Bombay Stock Exchange and the National Stock Exchange, the two main bourses in the country, said there would be no settlement of cash and derivatives trades Friday due to the strike. The trades will now be settled Monday.

Reports said banking operations in several states, notably Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, were crippled.

In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, the striking employees shouted slogans outside the main branches of several public sector banks, including the SBI and its associates.