The Chief Labour Commissioner, New Delhi, has advised Indian Banks’ Association (IBA) to resume bipartite wage revision talks ahead of the next reconciliation meeting on March 5. This is with a view to resolving the issues raised by the banking unions, Sunil Kumar, President, and Soumya Datta, General Secretary, All India Bank Officers Confederation, said.

The umbrella United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) had struck work on January 31 and February 1 to press a list of demands, including wage revision, in the first phase of protest action. Just before the bankmen went on strike, the IBA had pleaded inability to meet most of the 12 demands and communicated its position to the Chief Labour Commissioner.

Vexing five-day banking issue

In the next two phases, the UFBU has threatened a three-day strike on March 11, 12 and 13 and an indefinite strike from April 1, if there is no settlement to the long-pending wage issue. The wage settlement is due from November 1, 2017, and has defied an amicable even after 40 rounds of discussions. Another major demand articulated by the unions is introduction of five-day banking, outright refusal of which by the IBA reflects the management’s attitude to the cause of employee welfare, the unions say.

It was the previous (10th) bipartite settlement that made history by introducing holidays on second and fourth Saturdays, marking a new beginning in the working of the banking system in India. It was duly approved by the RBI and the Government, and was brought into effect through an executive order. There was a promise of a review after six months of implementation and a likely push to a five-day week, but it has not happened.

Sea change in banking operations

The unions are reiterating the demand in the context of the nature of banking operations having undergone a sea change in line with the larger goal of digital banking. They point to the increasing numbers of ATMs/CDMs in operation, and so too passbook entry machines; coin dispensers; cheque truncation, electronic clearing, and immediate payment systems; mobile banking solutions; and internet banking. Banks are vigorously campaigning to increase the usage of these alternate channels by making them available everywhere and making them user-friendly.

RBI data reveals that the number of point-of-sale (POS) machines increased to 42.5 lakh in July 2019, up 30 per cent from 32.7 lakh in the previous year. The RBI data only shows machine statistics from banks and does not include the number of devices from third-party players. In September 2019, the number of debit cards grew to 835.6 million, a 9.46 million increase over August. At the same time, a total of 52.6 million credit cards were in operation, with the addition of 0.82 million cards. Between July 2018 and July 2019, the country added some 1.01 crore credit cards and lost over 12.14 crore debit cards.

Alternate channels available

“People need not come to branches to transact business as these alternate channels are available to them. So five-day banking would not cause any hassles for customers. Should they want it, there can be seven-day branches also with adequate staff by rotation,” another union leader said.

As for mobile banking transactions, the volume data was reported at 143.22 crore in December 2019. This represents an increase from the previous number of 136.23 crore million for November, 2019. The volume data is updated monthly, averaging 2.51 crore from April 2011 to December 2019, with 105 observations. The number reached an all-time high of 143.22 crore in December, 2019 against a low of 10.8 lakh in April, 2011. These apart, at least 10 lakh business correspondents function in both rural and urban underbanked areas where banks don’t have branches, providing customers with basic banking services such as savings account opening and remittance transfer.