MUMBAI // About a million bank employees in India went on strike yesterday in support of a general strike called by trade unions to protest issues including rising prices.
Public sector banks were closed across Mumbai as the two-day strike began.
Members of India's largest banking trade union gathered at the Azad Maidan sports ground in the city, alongside dozens of farm workers and teachers, to call for better salaries for working class Indians amid high inflation levels and "anti-labour" policies.
The union was also protesting banking reforms, which they fear could lead to greater corporate and foreign control of the sector.
"We are demanding that there should be minimum [monthly] wages of 10,000 rupees [Dh677] for all the workers," said Vishwas Utagi, the vice president of the All India Bank Employees Association. "I'm talking about general workers. In the banking sector, everybody is getting more than 10,000. The banking sector is better paid. We want abolition of contract labour. We want social security for all the workers. We are opposed to the rising prices."
Elsewhere, it was business as usual for most of Mumbai. Shops were open. Taxis and public transport, which had been expected to grind to halt, were operating normally. ATMs at banks were still accessible, while most private sector banks seemed to be operating normally.
Mr Utagi said one million bank employees across India were participating in the strike.
This comes ahead of the federal budget, scheduled to be presented next Thursday, for the financial year beginning in April.
In December, parliament passed a bill designed to boost investment in the banking sector and help to stimulate higher levels of growth in the economy. Economic growth in the current financial year, which ends next month, is expected to hit a decade low.
Public-sector banks in particular have been saddled with bad loans, which have stemmed from infrastructure projects and the weaker performances of some corporates.
"We are demanding that the government of India should not invite FDI [foreign direct investment] in the public sector banks," Mr Utagi said. "The public sector should not be consolidated. The third demand is that we do not want corporate houses in India to be given banking licences to open new banks. Expansion of the private sector we will oppose. We do not want to lose control of the public-sector banks."
Pradeep Singh, a banker at Canara Bank, a public sector bank, was on strike yesterday. He explained that he was protesting against issues affecting the "common man", including inflation, as the gap between the rich and poor widened.
"We are against outsourcing," he said. "We want job security."
In terms of the banking sector, he explained that was concerned that American and European policies could be introduced to the Indian banking sector, which would be to the detriment of the industry.
"It will not meet our requirements here," he said. "We don't want Manmohan Singh's government to push these ideas, which have already failed," he argued, citing the global financial crisis.
Shanker Pawar, 22, a teacher, had travelled more than 500 kilometres into Mumbai from Parbhani in support of the strike. He said that he was paid just 5,000 rupees a month.
"Costs are going up, but we're not getting more money," he said.