75 years of union achievements sought to be taken away: AIBEA’s Venkatachalam

The growing individualism or self-interest against common welfare in a free market economy, large number of employee retirements, lower number of recruitments, general disinclination of the young staff towards union are some of the challenges that the unions have to face, said C.H. Venkatachalam, General Secretary, All India Bank Employees’ Association (AIBEA).

The four-lakh member strong AIBEA recently completed 75 years of its existence.

He also said the emerging days are going to be very challenging, in fact, threatening as all that has been achieved by unions are sought to be taken away.

“Looking back to the history of AIBEA for the past 75 years gives us great pride and inspiration because it is a journey by ordinary middle class bank employees who by their sheer unity could achieve dignity, security and better living conditions,” Venkatachalam told IANS.

On looking forward he said the emerging days are going to be very challenging, in fact, threatening to reverse the clock back. All the past achievements are sought to be taken away and members are to be geared to face the future challenges.

In a free market economy, with individuals becoming more important than the collective there is a risk that the idea of union may be under-valued. Unions mean uniformity and harmony. When individual interest will become predominant, unionism will be the casualty, Venkatachalam said.

On the unions not able to expand into new private banks Venkatachalam said most of the new banks hire staff on contract basis or on cost to company basis in the officer cadre not covered under the Industrial Disputes Act.

On the home turf- government owned banks and old generation private banks – Venkatachalam said the rate of new members joining the union due to reduced level of recruitment is less versus outgoes due to promotion, retirement.

“About 20 per cent of the employees would be retiring in the five years or so. Another 10 per cent have about 10 years to go. As on date, about 70 per cent employees are relatively young and hence, it is not an alarming situation,” Venkatachalam said.

The AIBEA which was in majority in the five associate banks of State Bank of India (SBI) lost that status when the former were merged with the latter.

Barring banks like Indian Overseas Bank (IOB), the AIBEA is the majority union in all other public sector banks.

While opposing privatisation, mergers and acquisitions of public sector banks, Venkatachalam said membership of the Union is not affected by mergers as unions also get merged. In fact, our unions have become bigger and larger numerically in such banks which is an advantage in terms of better capacity to fight.

Speaking about the merger of old generation Lakshmi Vilas Bank (LVB) where unions are present with new generation DBS Bank, Venkatachalam said things are so far normal there and if there is an attack on the unions then we will react, otherwise we will co-exist.

Asked about the efficacy of worker and officer representatives on the public sector bank boards as they didn’t turn into whistle blowers of various scams Venkatachalam said: “Our worker Directors are like a watchdog. And they have been playing this role well. Out of about 10 to 15 Directors on the Boards of a Bank, what one worker Director can do.”

He said the worker directors have questioned the management on various issues and many times our role has been appreciated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the government nominee directors.

“But it is not possible to play a major radical role to change the banking policies only by the worker director,” Venkatachalam said.

When asked about AIBEA’s silence on action against worker directors while demanding action against RBI nominee directors for scams Venkatachalam said the role of latter is different and they are equipped more than others.

“I was a Worker Director myself in those days. I have given so many dissents on many credit decisions. But we cannot say the same thing about RBI nominees. We want them to play a better role,’ Venkatachalam said.

Rejecting the idea of unions hiring consultants to chalk out growth plans for the banks as the latter lacks knowledge to suggest something great Venkatachalam said the unions can play more proactive than a defensive role if the managements and government change their outlook.

“If they take one step forward, we will not hesitate to take two steps forward,” he said.