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Bank Strike deferred, Not cancelled

The Indian Banks' Association (IBA), the industry lobby of banks, has proposed Rs 4 lakh cash-less medical insurance facility for all officers in member banks (mainly state-run banks) and Rs 3 lakh for other staff, besides agreeing to further discussions on other contentious issues to appease the bank trade unions to soften their stand.
A senior IBA official told Firstpost that state-run entities such as United India Insurance will be roped in to work out the modalities of the scheme, which is still at the discussion stage. If implemented, the scheme will benefit lakhs of employees of the state-run banks.
At present, banks reimburse the hospital expenses once the employees submit the bills. While the staff get full reimbursement, dependents get only 75 percent of the expended amount. Under the new scheme, both the employee and the dependent will be eligible for full cash-less facility.
Following positive steps from the IBA, trade unions in public sector banks have deferred a four-day strike planned from January 21.
In a meeting earlier this month, the IBA had improved their offer of wage revision from 11 percent to 12.5 percent even as the trade unions have come down to 19.5 percent from 23 percent earlier. But the unions aren't satisfied with a 12.5 percent hike.But the decision to postpone the strike appears temporary as the unions have again threatened to go on strike in February, if further talks with IBA on a host of issues including wage revision, fails again. There is no agreement between the unions and IBA on the wage issue yet.
“For now, we have told the unions that since the negotiations are on, do not strike the work. They have subsequently called off the strike,”a top IBA official told Firstpost. But a senior trade union official said, “if the issues are not resolved, the unions will strike work four days in end-February.”
This is not the first time trade unions, which claim support of about 10 lakh employees, majority of them from 27 public sector banks, are striking work demanding a wage increase since the last five-year bilateral contract between UFBU and IBA expired in October 2012.
Besides the wage revision, other demands of unions include regulated working hours, five-day  week and filling up of  vacant posts in the banks.
In effect, the trade unions have taken a relatively soft stance on the negotiations if bank managements are willing to offer a holistic package not just dealing with the wage revision but other incentives such as pensions etc.
But here is what the real deadlock is:
Managements in state-run banks are not in a position to fork out any more money for a substantial increase in the compensation levels of employees since these banks are severely constrained with capital.
Also, these banks, being listed entities, can convince their shareholders on the additional capital burden arising out of rising stressed assets on their books or the advent of Basel-III compliance but not the rising staff cost.
Even at 12.5 percent, the burden of wage increase on PSU banks is an estimated Rs 4,000 crore, according o IBA officials. The figure will rise to almost Rs 8,000 crore if arrears of pension and other perks are included. The new contract will come into effect retrospectively from November 2012 for a five year-period.
Banks, nonetheless, may be comfortable to pay this since they have been making provisions on wage since November 2012 after the expiry of the last contract. Beyond that, they will have to take a hit on their earnings.
Though IBA is likely to make a proposal to the finance ministry to make the work hours of staff in public sector banks five days a week, the finance ministry is understood to have turned down the proposal already.
As Firstpost has noted before, the critical point is that IBA can do very little to resolve this impasse beyond continuing negotiations. The actual decision should come from the government, the owner of state-run banks, be it the decision to cut short the work hours for staff (another demand of the unions) or the additional capital burden arising out of enhanced pay incentives.

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