The nation's largest lender State Bank of India has temporarily closed three branches — two in Mumbai and one in adjoining Thane — after eight staff tested positive for COVID-19, bank employees said.
The bank's main branch in Thane was shuttered last week after seven of the 25 staff were found to be COVID-19 positive, according to a senior bank employee.
A cash officer at the local cheque processing cell (LCPC), also known as the clearing department, in the northwestern Mumbai suburb of Jogeshwari (East) was found COVID-19 positive, leading to temporary closure of the branch early last week, said another employee.
As a precautionary measure, the bank temporarily stopped operations at its LCPC located in the Andheri area, after a gardener working there was founded to be infected with the virus, the employee said.
When contacted, SBI said, "Our quick response team headed by a general manager is continuously monitoring the situation in the entire country and due protocol is followed in case of any infection. Many of our staff members, who got infected, have recovered and are contributing to the functioning of the bank in these trying times".
Banks are classified as essential services to provide uninterrupted services even when the entire country was under lockdown.
Over the past few days, three SBI employees — Sandu Borade of the Churchgate branch; Anirban Datta of the Belapur CBD branch; and Ramesh Rane of the Ghatkopar branch were lost to the new coronavirus infection.
On the death of these staffers, the SBI statement said, "A few unfortunate deaths have happened and we are deeply saddened by the incidents. The compensation (including COVID compensation amount) is paid as per the established rules of the bank".
"Safety protocol is complied with and all possible support is provided. We salute our employees who are contributing to the nation in these trying times."
It can be noted that Maharashtra is the worst affected state with over 1 lakh infections and Mumbai as the epicentre. On Saturday, the state reported 3,427 new cases and 113 deaths, including 69 from Mumbai.
The latest count in the state stands at 1,04,568 and fatalities at 3,830, according to the state health department. Of the total cases, 78,134 are concentrated in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), which has reported 2,650 deaths, including Mumbai with 56,831 cases and 2,113 fatalities.
Another SBI employee said despite such a high number of cases being detected, the bank management is asking them to come in full strength and branches are back to normal operations.
A third employee said that the mortgage divisional headquarters in Thane is carrying out "full documentation" and let applicants visit the branch where no social distancing is possible because of the large number of applicants, but putting the lives of bankers at risk.
"Working with the PPE kit (given to us by the bank) on is practically not possible," the staffer cited above told PTI.
The employee stated that they are being asked to report only on alternate days and forced to apply for CLs on the rest.
"We are asked to apply for casual leave (CL) on days we are not going to the branch, or for working on alternate days," he said, adding "we are not even given commuting allowance or pick-up and drop since the lockdown was lifted on June 1".
"I pay over Rs 400 a day on two-way auto fare alone as the bank had long ago stopped the pick-up and drop facility which was there in the initial weeks of the lockdown," the employee averred.
SBI did not respond to the specific PTI query on the management asking staff to be fully present and also asking them to apply for CL for every absentee-day.
Recently, bank unions had written to the department of financial services demanding regular sanitisation of branches, Rs 1,000 daily allowance and Rs 50 lakh insurance cover for bank staff as provided to healthcare workers.
The demand from the United Forum of Bank Unions came in after 11 employees of various banks died due to the virus.
According to the union, these deceased staff include three from SBI, two from Bank of India, and one each from Punjab National Bank, Federal Bank, Central Bank of India, IDBI, Canara Bank, and Bank of Maharashtra.