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Unions in Banking Sector Keep pace with time

Arjun Singh Rathore

“Lal Lal Lehrayega Inqualab Aayega” and “Aaj Kya Hai Hartal Hai ” In India for a common man the synonym of Union is ‘Strike and Bandh’. But in reality the trade unions have been an essential force for social change, without which a semblance of a decent and humane society is impossible under capitalism.

A Trade Union or Labour Union is an organization of workers who have banded together to achieve common goals in key areas such as wages, hours and working conditions, forming a cartel of labour. India has the largest number of trade unions. The Indian Trade Union Act 1926, is the principle act which controls and regulates the mechanism of Trade Unions. In India, political lines and ideologies influence Trade Union movements. And despite of the political parties are forming and running Trade Unions, they have developed very slowly. But still unions brought about some economic, political and social betterment of the workers. Economically, they have improved the lot of the workers. Politically, the unionism has produced a mighty secular anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, equalitarian and socialistic force of national economy. The degree of unionism varies widely from industry to industry. Though trade unions are of various sizes with thousands of members, yet, most of the unions are still characterized by their small size and small membership. There are four main types of trade unions in India:-

i) General Unions, These are for skilled and unskilled workers performing different jobs in different industries(e.g., Clerical Staff, Transport Workers, Cleaners, etc.,)

ii) Industrial Unions

iii) Craft Unions

iv) White Collar Unions

In present times with the opening of doors for the Multi National Companies the White Collar Unions have altogether changed it’s role, especially in Banking Industry. Prior to nationalization, the majority of the banks were dominated by large industrial houses and their recruitment was based mainly on family connections or recommendations. Employees normally came from middle class. The working conditions of employees left much to be desired. Management style was generally autocratic. The employees tolerated it, in view of social antecedents of White Collar employees.

Though the first Trade Union in the banking industry was started by employees in the then Imperial Bank of India (present State Bank of India) in 1925, it was only in 1946 that the first confederation of Trade Unions in banks called All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) was launched. It was only after formation of AIBEA that unionization in the banking industry gathered momentum. The emergence of unions was a great shock to the managements. Management believed that it was unethical for the clerical employees to form Trade Unions. The response of management to the emergence of union was typical of any management of those days. In some banks Union activists were harassed, transferred, victimized and suspended etc. to stop formation of unions or curb their influence. Generally management refused to enter into any dialogue with their unions and would fight every demand made by the union up to industrial tribunals. As our society is mainly influenced and then governed by and on political lines, the Communist Party of India gained indirect control over All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA). And it was the time when Strike & Bandhs were the main forms of the protest adopted by the banks. And in between all this on 6th October 1985, All India Bank Officer’s Confederation (AIBOC) was founded. It is one of the prominent Trade Union organisations of India, and is an apex body consisting of trade union organisations of supervisory staff members of many banking companies operating in India. But most of the time AIBOC couldn’t enjoy that status among its members as is being enjoyed by AIBEA. Although the role and responsibility of both these unions is more of a watch dog, to keep an eye on the long term impact of policies introduced by the management from time to time but still under the pressure from the members these unions mainly compromise on short term gains, which otherwise is not the prime task of unions. Originally Trade Unions in banks were to give job security, protect the interest of it’s members and ensure for them better scales of pay and service conditions. It’s mainly because of Unions that employees were able to achieve better scales of pay and service conditions through successive tribunal awards and bipartite settlements signed at the industry level. They could also ensure with their organizational strength more than reasonable job security.
However there is no hesitation in admitting that these unions hardly made any attempt to keep pace with the changes taking place in the industry. They did not introduce complete internal democracy and transparency in their functioning. They did not set up any Research Cell to collect data on their own. As a result these unions remain dependent on the data supplied by Indian Banks Association (IBA) and they have not been in a position to challenge for their rights and were forced to succumb to the pressures.

The present times where day in and day out the public sector banks have to face the business challenges from the new generation private sector banks, the agitational form of protests cannot be an answer but the unions have to look for the solutions for their existence. Moreover the attitude and approach of the present managements have also changed and today they are usually more employee friendly than ever. At the same time the top leaders of constituent Unions have to sit together and take responsibility, accountability and answerability on the decisions taken for their members to mitigate the alienation between the Office Bearers and its members. Ultimately, it is the Organisation (Bank) first and Employee next.

(The author is Branch Head in J&K Bank BU Patel Nagar Jammu, Senior Vice President JKBOA-J & AIJKBOF)