The Indian banking sector has a unique industrial relations machinery that came into practice through struggle and sacrifices, and it is not only for the workmen but also for the officers.

In 1969 the supervising officials of the State Bank of India went on an indefinite strike which lasted for 17 days. It ended with a written agreement which was initially classified as a secret agreement. This strike led by Mr. L. V. Subramaniam as General Secretary paved the way for a regular industrial relations mechanism in SBI and most of the public sector banks have followed the same with minor changes.

Over a period of time, a well-oiled industrial relations machinery is working in SBI as well as in the banking industry. Recently the Central Bank of India has made some modifications which are under further discussion with the management. What is functioning in the banking industry can be taken as an example or model which can be used by all banks, financial institutions, public enterprises, public services, government departments as well as private sector organisations.

Now banks have laid norms for these meetings called Structured Meetings or Negotiation Council Meetings.

The meetings take place at the zonal level, regional level, module level, circle level and central office level depending on the size and structure of the bank.

This is a time-tested mechanism which has worked for decades and needs to be strengthened.

Unfortunately, in some banks, the present executives do not understand the importance of this machinery and resort to various efforts to weaken this IR Mechanism, which leads to struggles and strikes.

Article 19 of the Constitution provides Freedom of Association. There are several acts like the Trade Union Act, Industrial Relation Act, Shops & Establishment Act, which provide for union activities. Now they are being discarded and four new Labour Codes are proposed.

Looking at the industrial relation machinery in the banking sector and implementing the same in every sector will improve productivity. A grievance redressal mechanism along with basic rights for the employees helps to have a smooth functioning of the organisation for the employer and above all a better work-life balance, and happiness for all.

The recognition is given to the unions and associations based on the check-off facility through which a monthly subscription is deducted from the salary. So there is no need for a separate election to determine the membership strength.

Whenever the IR machinery is respected by both sides the performance improves and experience shows that when the management ignores or tries to weaken the association/union the performance of the organisation deteriorates. In case there is a failure in the IR machinery, SBI also has an appellate body to which either side can escalate the issue which is sorted out within a given time frame.

Today our country has a demographic advantage; to utilise it fully, we need the industrial relations to be in the best condition.

This is also necessary for the State and Central Government Departments. At present, talks are held between the management and the employees only when notice is given. A regular constructive mechanism will achieve better. In some banks, few democratically elected leaders of the association are duty-free. But they attend to the duty of keeping the grievance mechanism healthy, they involve in developing and motivating the staff, and do more work than others. Wherever there is good leadership both in the management and the Union/Association, the performance of the organisation is excellent.

During Nationalisation, Mr. Madhuli Mayee, MP proposed an amendment to the Nationalisation Act providing for workers’ participation in the Management by providing one Board of Directors from the employees’ Union and one from the Officers’ Association. This was functioning well until 2014. After that, the posts went vacant and a case is still going on at Delhi High Court. This government does not believe in workers’ participation in Management and transparency. They should understand the real benefit of this mechanism and immediately appoint an Officer Director and an Employee Director at every bank.

A similar exercise, if done in every public sector undertaking, public services and in the government as well as private enterprises there will be a great change. The world is moving towards improving the happiness index. The IR mechanism and the appointment of the Board of Directors will be in the right direction towards this.

There should be a National debate on the Industrial Relations Mechanism, and strengthening the same. Trade unions need to have discussions among themselves and the demand should be placed to the Government of India.

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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