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Talks fail again, SBI strike continues

Bank transactions crumbled across India as stir entered the fifth day.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2006 12:32 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

Personal and business financial transactions crumbled across India on Friday as the countrywide indefinite strike by the workers of India's largest bank continued for the fifth consecutive day.

Over 200,000 officers and workers in over 9,000 branches of the State Bank of India (SBI) in different parts of the country have been on an indefinite strike since Monday demanding revision in a pension scheme.

The SBI management on Friday appealed to the agitating workers to return to work immediately, assuring them that "pending issues" would be resolved.

"The strike is on across the country and will not be called off till our demands are met by the authorities," said Umesh Nayak, president of the All India State Bank of India Staff Federation.

The All India State Bank Officers' Federation and the All India State Bank of India Staff Federation are spearheading the nationwide agitation.

"They (the government and the SBI management) are not willing to settle the problem. We don't believe in assurances. We want the government to give a firm mandate to the SBI management in this pension issue," Nayak said.

The striking workers said the pension ceiling had been kept unchanged at Rs 4,250 per month based on the salary structure of 1992. Although salaries were revised in 1997 and 2002, the pension ceiling had not been hiked.

The SBI workers are demanding 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.

The union leader said representatives of the SBI workers held "conciliatory talks" with the chief labour commissioner on Wednesday in New Delhi to find an early settlement to the row.

"Nothing concrete came out of the talks as the Finance Ministry is not interested in settling it. No other conciliatory talks are planned at this stage," said Nayak.

The agitating SBI workers held a protest rally in Mumbai's Azad Maidan on Friday, vowing to continue with their strike. Noisy demonstrations were held in other parts of the country as well.

While appealing the striking workers to return to work, the SBI management said it was trying to restore normalcy in its operations.

"In the wake of the ongoing strike by our employees, millions of our esteemed customers have been put to severe inconvenience," the SBI said in a statement signed by its chairman AK Purwar and managing director TS Bhattacharya.

"These include the poorest of poor, pensioners, small businessmen, salaried and middle class people, corporates as well as state and central government. We owe it to our stakeholders to restore normalcy to our functioning," it added.

"We, therefore, appeal to our employees to return to work immediately. Meanwhile, we assure them of our endeavours to resolve the pending issues."

According to experts, the country's financial system is taking a hit of as much as Rs 20 billion per day as a result of the strike by the workers of the public sector banking giant.

SBI branches in Mumbai wore a deserted look and all transactions were crippled.

The strike has badly affected hundreds of thousands of middle-class salaried employees as a score of state and government enterprises disburse the monthly salaries through the branches of the SBI.

Trading in the money market has also been adversely affected because of the strike. Industry sources said they would have to face major setbacks in the days ahead if the strike was not called off at the earliest.

Public sector SBI accounts for 18 per cent of the total deposits and advances in the Indian banking sector. The bank handles 60 per cent of the total receipts and payments on behalf of the central and state governments.

"I have not been able to withdraw my pension for this month," said retired public sector employee Dileep Patil. "The strike has badly affected my household expenditure. I don't know what I will do if the strike continues for long."

On the hardships being faced by the pensioners and government employees, whose salaries are disbursed through SBI branches, Nayak said: "We do understand their plight. We will find out a way to ensure they are not affected by the strike."

First Published: Apr 07, 2006 11:51 IST