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'We Will Protect Employees' Salaries, Pensions': FM Sitharaman Defends Bank Privatisation Amid Strike

File photo of finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

File photo of finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

The strike comes about a month after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced the privatisation of two public sector banks.

Amid strikes by bank unions against privatisation, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday said the government would ensure protection of employees’ interests even after the banks are privatised.

“It’s not right to say that every government bank is being sold-off. We will absolutely be protective of employees who have given decades to these banks…their salary, their pensions will be protected,” she said.

Banking operations across the country are partially hit as the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU) has called a nationwide strike to protest against the proposed privatisation of two state-owned lenders. The strike comes about a month after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Union Budget, announced the privatisation of two public sector banks (PSBs) as part of the government’s disinvestment plan.

The government has already privatised IDBI Bank by selling its majority stake in the lender to LIC in 2019 and has merged 14 public sector banks in the last four years. Conciliation meetings – before the Additional Chief Labour Commissioner on March 4, 9 and 10 – did not yield any positive result, so the strike stands, All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) general secretary CH Venkatachalam had said.

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Members of UFBU include All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA), All India Bank Officers’ Confederation (AIBOC), National Confederation of Bank Employees (NCBE), All India Bank Officers’ Association (AIBOA) and Bank Employees Confederation of India (BEFI) are on strike. Others are Indian National Bank Employees Federation (INBEF), Indian National Bank Officers Congress (INBOC), National Organisation of Bank Workers (NOBW) and National Organisation of Bank Officers (NOBO).

Meanwhile, Sitharaman also hit out at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, saying privatising tax payers’ money was what UPA had been doing. “The taxpayers money was being used for ‘one family’ only,” she said.

The Congress on Tuesday had asked the government to accept the demands of the nine unions of public sector banks (PSBs) that are on a two-day strike to protest privatisation of two PSBs, and accused the Centre of working for the benefit of a few “crony capitalists”. Gandhi alleged that selling public sector banks to “cronies” will compromise the country’s financial security.

He also accused the government of “privatising profit” and “nationalising loss”. Public sector bank employees began their two-day strike on Monday, employees of general insurance companies will strike on March 17, and Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) employees have given a strike call on March 18, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha and senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said.

“Despite so many people going on strike and protesting the policy of privatisation, the government is neither listening to them nor looking to solve their problems. The government has taken a decision to privatise two public sector banks without consulting the 75 crore account holders,” Kharge told reporters outside Parliament.

He said top 14 banks were nationalised by former prime minister Indira Gandhi so that the poor and small and medium businesses can make use of them. “By merging all these banks one by one, they (the government) are trying to put them in losses and then make the private players enter by citing losses,” said Kharge, flanked by party MPs Shaktisinh Gohil and Syed Nasser Hussain. The government wants to hand over the country’s wealth to a few by privatising nationalised banks, he alleged. He said out of the 13 lakh bank employees, there are several people from poor sections of the society, from the SC, ST and OBC categories who are also being “betrayed”.

first published:March 16, 2021, 16:15 IST