In the first major organised protest against the government's "anti-people banking reforms", 10 lakh bank employees and officials staged a strike on Tuesday, bringing banking operations across the country to a halt.
The strike was called by the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU), comprising nine unions, who also pressed for compensation to employees for extra work done on account of demonetisation and action against loan defaulters.
"Around 85,000 branches of commercial banks, 105,000 branches of co-operative banks and others went on strike," All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA) General Secretary C.H. Venkatachalam told IANS in Chennai.
He said clearance of 40 lakh cheques totalling around Rs 22,000 crore was affected.
The strike covered employees and officers in all public sector banks, including State Bank of India, all old-generation private banks, foreign banks, regional rural banks and cooperative banks.
An officer in a government-owned bank preferring anonymity told IANS: "The clerical staff will get overtime allowance for working extra during the demonetisation period. But the officers will not get anything and in addition they will be losing a day's salary due to the strike."
Not agreeing with that view, D. Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, Senior Vice President of the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC), told IANS: "Our demand is to treat all the employees equally. And officers will also get their due share."
AIBEA Northern Region President J.P Sharma told IANS that the strike was a success in the entire region.
"With all employees of all state-run banks and many private ones also going on strike, it had a complete impact. Most branches were locked," Sharma said, adding that thousands of bank staff had gathered in the Jantar Mantar area of New Delhi in peaceful protest.
"There was no cheque clearing activity today (Tuesday) as all the national clearing grids were shut due to the strike," he said.
Venkatachalam said: "The real menace affecting the Indian banking industry is the rise in bad loans and the number of wilful loan defaulters."
He said the shutdown comes after all attempts to find a solution to the demands raised by the unions yielded no results.
The conciliation meeting before the Chief Labour Commissioner on February 21 failed to break the deadlock as the bank management body -- Indian Banks Association (IBA) -- did not agree to the union demands.
New generation private banks like ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank, Axis Bank and others were not part of the union and continued to function normally but cheque clearances did not take place, whilea large number of the ATMs were also closed, creating problems for the people.
"ATM operations are yet to normalise after the demonetisation of high value notes. It seems people have resigned to the situation of less cash," Venkatachalam added.
Banking operations across West Bengal were disrupted on Tuesday.
"Employees and officers from about 8,000 branches of commercial, cooperative and rural banks in Bengal are observing the strike. It is 100 percent successful. Out of around 10,000 ATMs, about 90 percent of them remained shut," state AIBEA President Rajen Nagar told IANS.
The unions said the strike was to oppose banking and labour law reforms, infringement of trade union rights, outsourcing of permanent jobs, and to demand legitimate compensation to employees and officers for extra hours of work put in due to demonetisation.
According to unions, the adverse effect of demonetisation on the economy has resulted in decline in the GDP growth rate and has taken away the lives of more than 100 citizens including more than 10 bank employees.
Banking services were badly affected in Left-ruled Tripura as most of the major banks remained closed.
"Around 4,000 bank employees belonging to about 500 nationalised, regional, rural and cooperative bank branches in Tripura took part in the strike," said UFBU spokesman Sushobhan Datta Majumder in Agartala.
Government and foreign exchange transactions were also affected due to the shutdown.
Protest rallies were also held in many cities in the state by the striking employees.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)