Random Reflections

It is being reported that banks in India will have a Five-Day Week soon once it is cleared by the Finance Ministry.

What is special about it?

Banks abroad work only five days a week. International financial system works only five days a week.  Reserve Bank of India works only for five days a week. The Central Government Offices and most of the State Government Offices work only for five days a week. Even the information and technology (IT) companies work for five day a week. Now LIC of India and many public sector undertakings too work for five days.

But when the officers in the banking sector demanded a five day week there was resistance from the bank management as well as the Government of India.  In fact they favoured the idea of seven days a week!

Since 2006, there were proposals to have seven day banking in State Bank of India (SBI), which was opposed by the All India State Bank Officers’ Federation.  On 2.11.2011 the Federation issued a strike notice demanding a Five Day Week proposing two days strike on 8th and 9th November 2011. The strike was withdrawn based on an assurance by the Management. But the Chairman of SBI Mr. Pratip Choudhury gave a press statement on 25.8.2012 about the bank’s proposal to keep open the banks on Saturdays (instead of half day which existed) in all its 14000 odd branches and it would be seven day banking. The Federation gave a call for Lunch-time demonstration on 28.08.2012 in front of the local head offices and administrative offices of the bank. The bank issued charge sheet to the presidents and general secretaries of the Circle Association.

The charges were identical.

  1. He instigated officers to hold demonstration with in the premises/compound, he himself shouted slogans, disturbed peace within the premises.
  2. Instead of protecting the interest of the Bank and guiding others he wrongfully instigated the other officers of the Bank to misbehave by shouting slogans and demonstrating with the intention to disturb peace, disrupt the Bank’s operation and discourage the Banks officers from performing their lawful duties with ulterior motive to lower the image of the Bank in the eyes of the customers and public at large.
  3.  He has organised and designed the demonstrations with deliberate intention to tarnish the image of the Bank which he is required to protect and enhance as an officer of the Bank.

Enquiry was conducted and punishment of reduction in one scale (V –IV, IV-III, III-II, II-I) was imposed uniformly in all circles except Bangalore circle where a stay order was obtained by the Association and Chennai Circle were stay was not granted but the case was admitted by a two member bench. It will be interesting for the readers to know that the Enquiry Officers and Presenting Officers were brought from other Circles because the management thought that the officers in their own Circles will not be able to carry out their dictates. Retorting to this the Association brought Defence Representatives from Other Circles (Like myself going to North Eastern Circle and my Defence Representative Com. Jagadish Paul coming to Chennai as Defence Representative for me).

In the Madras High Court arguments were placed that all Trade Unions in the Country have the right to demonstrate peacefully and that the said right flows from Article 19 (1) (e) of the Constitution of India.

An argument was also placed that the action of the office bearers of the registered association could not be mixed up with the duties of an officer of the Bank, especially when the conduct of the demonstrations were in accordance with the rights conferred under the Trade Union Act.

The Bank as respondent argued for 7 day banking apart from quoting the Service Rules. The Bank also filed a suit in Mumbai High Court claiming a compensation of Rs. 100 crore from the Association. In the judgement which is widely published by law Journals, the Judges referred to “Rule 54(1) bodily incorporated Article 19(2) of the Constitution of India which is related to demonstration which is prejudicial to the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relation with foreign State, Public Order, decency or morality or which involves contempt of Court or defamation or incitement of an offence,” and questioned could holding of a demonstration per se amount to misconduct?  The holding of a demonstration is to be a constitutional right guaranteed under the Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

The Honourable Court set aside the enquiry conducted and quashed the Charge Memo (Refer Madras High Court Judgement dated 4.07.2013 in Writ Appeal No: 431 & 432 of 2013 and Writ Petitions No:  16746 of 2014 delivered by Jus. Chitra Venkatraman and Jus. K.B.K. Vasuki for details).

So the demand for Five Day Week had to face many hurdles.

In a meeting of Central Bank of India Officers’ Association held at Chennai when I spoke on details of the need for Five Day Week, the then  General Secretary of AIBOC said it is a fantastic demand but we may not be able to achieve it.  Within the United Forum of Bank Unions some of the Award Staff Unions did not find it attractive as most of their members could leave office after office hours but for the officers work life balance was important as most of them had to stay late every day to complete work.

Subsequently it was part of the Charter of Demands for 10th Bipartite Settlement signed on 25th May 2015 w.e.f. 1.11.2012.

Here too much drama took place.

The final drama came on the day of the settlement. Mr. Y. Sudarshan, then President of AIBOC and other leaders insisted that there cannot be a settlement without Five Day Week.  Mrs. Arundhati Bhattacharya, then CMD of SBI and Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Iyer, then MD of BOI joined the IBA negotiations though they were not members of the IBA Negotiating Committee (The President AIBOC was from SBI and General Secretary AIBOC was from BOI).

They gave an oral promise that two Saturdays will be off immediately and if it works well Five Day Week will be implemented within six months.

A settlement was reached with two Saturday off which gave some relief. This could be possible because of several articles in Business Line, Business Standard, letters to all Members of Parliament and the consistent stand of AIBOC in which All India State Bank Officers Federation had an important role. But after 2015 nothing moved. When the 11th bipartite settlement was signed on 11th November 2020, this demand was kept as a residual issue with a promise that it will be negotiated subsequently. For the residual issues the United Forum of Bank Unions had to go on a strike. Then the negotiation started and only because of the unity of the United Forum of Bank Unions which is the unique confluences of officers, clerks and sub ordinate staff this demand could be achieved.

What this means for the bank staff?  

They can have two day off every week which will definitely improve work-life balance and the millennials can have some happiness with family. But beware. The Management will try its best to take away at least one day for pending work. Without improving the staff strength this problem will persist. The unions and the associations will definitely stand with their members in their struggle to implement the five day week.

For the customers including me we don’t have to wait for Saturdays to go to the bank. We can also relax with the family like every other employee. We can make better use of the alternate channels which any way are being pushed by the government.

For the management, they can still implement 7 day banking in selected branches if customers need it by recruiting more staff, but no staff should be asked to work for more than five days in a week.

Some bank retirees are writing on social media that this is not needed, what they need is the updation of pension. Updation of Pension will not take place unless the United Forum fights for it and they are already doing it. The so called leaders in the pensioners’ associations seems to have lost their fighting spirit. They could have followed the path of ex-servicemen but they are not doing it. So they should have faith in the UFBU which is an organisation fighting for everyone’s rights.

Salutes to the United Forum of Bank Union.

Adam Smith wrote, “With advancement of technology working hours should reduce.” Some countries and companies are already experimenting with a four day week. So that we can have more time with family and friends and involve in productive activities of the society as a whole.

Photo : Flickr/Appaiah

Thomas Franco is the former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation and a Steering Committee Member at the Global Labour University.

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