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Banking Central | A ‘Navratri’ celebration that didn’t go quite well

Senior executives at PSBs often act like feudal lords to please their bosses, and employees at lower levels often bear the brunt. This is where trade unions act as a corrective force. Though these unions have weakened over the years, they do have a significant role to play when it comes to banking sector employees’ issues.

October 11, 2021 / 04:25 PM IST
Representative image (Source: ShutterStock)

Representative image (Source: ShutterStock)

Last week, an internal circular issued by a general manager at state-run Union Bank of India with respect to Navratri celebrations in the bank made headlines—unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. The circular spoke about a mandatory ‘dress code’ for employees in different colours during Navratri celebrations between October 7 and October 15. The colours ranged from yellow, green, orange, white, royal blue, pink, purple, grey and red for the nine days. Worse, the circular also threatened a Rs200 penalty on those who did not comply with this directive. The circular, logically, drew the ire of employee trade unions who criticised the diktat.

Within hours, the bank withdrew the circular after the top management intervened. What really happened? I’m told the idea of a forced dress code during Navratri was that of a general manager who “only wanted to arrange a Navaratri celebration in proper manner” for the digitisation department of the bank. It is usual every year for banks to organize festival celebrations but issuing a diktat on a dress code and threatening to impose a penalty was unusual. The general manager apparently planned this to please customers. But not so pleased were the bank employees belonging to other religions.

However, as mentioned above, the diktat failed after some employees leaked the internal circular to the media. “It was a mistake and we corrected it immediately. No one can force anyone in the bank to follow a certain religious code,” a senior official on condition of anonymity told this writer. Whether to follow a religious festival, as the trade unions highlighted, is a personal choice of every employee and that freedom needs to be respected at any cost. This particular incident may be a ‘mistake’, but the question is, how did the idea of a diktat on a religious festival dress code come to a general manager in the first place?

It is pertinent to note the timely involvement of the employees’ union in this episode. Employees’ unions deserve praise for raising the alarm and forcing the management to withdraw the controversial circular. Remember, this isn’t the only case where bank employees’ unions have played a key role in raising questions against unjust actions by bank managements. Other instances include the orders to attend offices during the peak of the Covid crisis and when a top politician publicly scolded a top public sector banker not so long ago. Also, unions have played a key role in implementing wage revisions for bank employees. There are countless such examples.

Recently, this column had discussed an incident where top management of a public sector bank blindly followed the finance ministry’s directions and punished a zonal manager for supporting probationary officers from prosecution in a loan case. Employees’ unions defended the zonal manager in this case arguing that probationary officers were only following the instructions of senior executives.

Close

banking centralSenior executives at public sector banks often act like feudal lords and employees at lower levels bear the brunt. This is where trade unions often act as a corrective force. The instances mentioned above clearly tell us why trade unions continue to have support among bank employees, including the young officers. As C.H. Venkatachalam, general secretary of All India State Bank Employees Association says, trade unions have always acted as a corrective force and will continue to be so.

Though these unions have weakened over the years, they do have a role to play when it comes to speaking up for the workforce. The Union Bank episode is but the latest example.

(Banking Central is a weekly column that keeps a close watch and connects the dots about the sector's most important events for readers.)
Dinesh Unnikrishnan is Deputy Editor at Moneycontrol. Dinesh heads the Banking and Finance Bureau at Moneycontrol. He also writes a weekly column, Banking Central, every Monday.
first published: Oct 11, 2021 04:25 pm

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