Anxiety up for bank staff as cases rise

Three large banks switch to operations with less staff, govt nod must for change in timings

Almost two weeks after the State Level Bankers’ Committee (SLBC) recommended banks be allowed to reduce business hours and operate with limited staff, anxiety levels run high among banks employees with the Telangana government yet to give approval for the measures.

Compounding their worries is the unabated increase in number of people testing positive for COVID-19, including hundreds of bank employees and officers. The nature of their job, especially those manning counters at the branches, puts them at risk of contracting the virus.

Recommended timings

One of the key measures the April 21 meeting of SLBC unanimously recommended was to make available services at the branches/offices to customers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and close the facilities by 4 p.m. up to May 15. It also favoured permitting banks to work with 50% staff strength on any given day and declaring all Saturdays, again till May 15, as holidays. While scheduled commercial banks, regional rural banks and cooperative banks are to be covered by the decision, by extension the private banks would follow suit.

A delegation from the United Forum of Bank Unions (UFBU)-Telangana unit had also met Finance Minister T. Harish Rao. Convenor of TS unit R. Sriram said the Minister had “responded positively and also immediately conveyed our views to the appropriate authorities for issue of necessary instructions”.

But with the State government taking time presumably to study the impact of the measures, employees are concerned, bankers said.

A few large banks, on instructions from their head offices as well as in the backdrop of an advisory from the Indian Banks’ Association (IBA), have started operating with limited staff. The State Bank of India, Punjab National Bank and the Union Bank of India, which between them account for a large chunk of the business handled by State-owned banks, have switched over to working with 50% of the staff last week. They are implementing this across as many branches and offices as possible and it is unlikely that the measure will remain in force only till May 15, sources added.

A senior banker said this move to call employees in batches ensures that there are people to maintain the services delivered through branches. On the change in the business hours, a banker said it is something that cannot be implemented without the concurrence of the State government. In Andhra Pradesh, the bank working hours have been reduced, he said.

For some banks such as the Andhra Pradesh Grameena Vikas Bank, which is a RRB, operating with less staff is not an option considering their emphasis on a lean structure.

Digital banking

But as sources in Bank of Maharashtra said, what is causing concern to the bank employees is an increase in footfall that branches will see in the first week of the month, as customers visit the facilities to withdraw salaries, pension and government benefits. Even those visiting the branches are likely to get infected, bankers say, pointing to the need for customers to adopt digital banking as far as possible.

On the number of bank staffers infected during the second wave, sources said in State Bank of India alone, it hovers around 900, while in Union Bank of India it is 400-500. The number across all the banks could be much higher and at least 10 bank staff have died due to COVID-19 complications in the State, they said. The focus of many banks now is on getting the employees vaccinated, something an officer regretted the government did not consider despite their being frontline workers.


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