For the first time in its 200-year history, State Bank of India has taken its officers’ association to court for resorting to a work-to-rule agitation and demonstrations in September that hit the business of the country’s largest bank.
In its interim injunction, the Bombay High Court on December 3 restrained the association from holding demonstrations, hunger strikes and relay fasts at the bank’s headquarters and branches until further orders.
The trigger for the agitation by the officers’ association was the SBI chairman’s August statement about his plan to introduce seven-day banking to meet the challenges of growing competition.
Though the members of the association did not go on strike, they protested through demonstrations and a call to officers not to cooperate with the proposed changes by the management.
While granting interim injunction, judge S J Kathawalla said the association had the liberty to write to the SBI management to refer disputes to a mediator. SBI, the order said, could refer the matter to a senior advocate specialising in labour matters for mediation.
The court will take up the matter again on Tuesday (December 18).
The officers’ association is in the process of filing a reply to the SBI petition. The association’s general-secretary, D S Rishab Das, declined to respond to queries on the issue.
The SBI brass has been in talks with officers’ representatives on service conditions, including working hours. SBI officials maintain an agreement signed in 2003 provides flexibility for changing the banking hours. “Seven-day banking does not mean the bank would ask employees to work on all seven days,” an official said.
The SBI chairman and top officials held negotiations with the office-bearer of the association on October 4 but the talks did not yield fruit. After officers in some circles held demonstrations on November 30, the management moved court for action. An office-bearer said the move for seven-day banking was at odds with unions fighting for introducing a five-day week for bank employees.
Meanwhile, SBI has sought an explanation from the association for allegedly instigating officers to protest against the management. It also issued chargesheets and showcause notices to some leaders. Some of these leaders have filed writ petitions, while others are in the process of filing petitions in high courts.