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Banking on trouble

The SBI employees know that their strike is causing havoc in banking operations across the country, affecting exporters, corporates as well as ordinary account holders.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 04:02 IST

A bank that covers 70 per cent of all bank transactions across the country and handles the government’s treasury and forex operations is an essential service, and therefore much too important to be permitted to shut down under any circumstances. The State Bank of India employees should not have been permitted to go on strike and the earlier they call it off, the better it will  be for all. The employees may have a case for having their pensions revised upwards from the present ceiling of Rs 8,500. The government is correct in refusing to peg it at half the last pay drawn, as demanded by the unions, because it could trigger off similar demands in other sectors and derail its efforts to reform the entire pension system.

Public sector bank employees have always been a privileged lot in the Indian system and it is only after the entry of private banks that people were made aware of how much they had been shortchanged in terms of products and services. The SBI employees know that their strike is causing havoc in banking operations across the country, affecting exporters, corporates as well as ordinary account holders and pensioners. Yet their unrelenting response to appeals to call off their action reveals that at the end of the day they are in the banking business for themselves, and not the customer. Historically, a strike has been seen as a weapon of the weak to collectively bargain for their rights. But anyone familiar with banking unions knows that they are anything but weak and represent a class of unusually privileged employees. What the unions are actually doing is use their brute power to browbeat the government.

Whatever be the outcome, it should act as an incentive for the government to shift its business to other banks, public or private, as well as promote the privatisation of the banking sector.