By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai - India's largest lender, State Bank of India (SBI), has rationalised 716 offices (594 branches and 122 administrative offices) and several thousands of employees have been transferred beginning this fiscal, but, strangely, there have been no major protests, top officials said.
Several hundreds of offices would be closed and thousands of staff would be moved in the coming months, officials added.
Strangely one does not hear any major complaints of vindictiveness or arbitrariness from the normally vociferous banking sector employees. This, at a time when leading software companies are arbitrarily firing people at day's notice.
Even the unions that strongly opposed the merger of six banks with SBI and were apprehensive about treatment of incoming staff by the SBI management agree that there is not much of vindictive or arbitrary movement of people till now, making one wonder as to how and why this happened.
Around 70,000 employees (around 40,000 Cass III and IV and around 30,000 officers) were added to SBI's rolls following the merger of SBBJ (State Bank of Bikaner and Jaipur), SBM (State Bank of Mysore), SBT (State Bank of Travancore), SBP (State Bank of Patiala) and SBH (State Bank of Hyderabad) and Bharatiya Mahila Bank.
"By and large, the staff redeployment in SBI has been smooth. However, there seems to be complaints of vindictive transfers in Kerala which the management must address satisfactorily," C.H. Venkatachalam, General Secretary, All India Bank Employees' Association (AIBEA), said.
But how is it that SBI is managing the show without the flag of protest being raised by the usually vociferous unions?
"The management did not deviate from the transfer policies that were signed between the management and the unions," Sanjeev Kumar Bandlish, General Secretary, All India State Bank of India Staff Federation (AISBISF), said.
"There are set transfer policies for officers and the award staff. We have told the management not to transfer employees on a large scale," D. Thomas Franco Rajendra Dev, President, All India State Bank Officers Federation (AIBOF), said.
Union leaders said the employees were consulted and posting preferences were sought prior to their transfer.
"The employees were moved to other branches located in the close vicinity of their earlier offices. This reduced tension in the minds of incoming employees to a large extent," Neeraj Vyas, Deputy Managing Director and Chief Operating Officer, said.
He said those who opted to take higher responsibility under the Career Progression Plan (CPP) were transferred to another location as per the existing policy.
"The reservation about the merger was only in the incoming employees' minds. Once the merger happened and the employees saw the systematic way the policies were followed, the mental block against the merger has melted," Vyas said.
"When the merger was proposed, integrating the officers of associate banks was not considered to be a problem. However, in the case of clerical cadres there was a crucial difference between SBI and the associate banks," Vyas added.
Vyas said that under the SBI's CPP for clerical staff, those who accept higher responsibility are given additional powers and allowances.
"But such schemes were not there in the associate banks and the major union there -- the AIBEA -- had opposed the scheme," Vyas said.
He said many employees of the erstwhile associate banks have now opted for the CPP.
According to Vyas, there were no mass scale transfers in the associate banks prior to the introduction of Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) before the merger.
A total of 3,569 employees opted for VRS.
"The VRS numbers were as per our initial expectations," Vyas said.
In the case of officers, they will be transferred on promotion or after completing three years at a location.
On the staff redeployment process, Vyas said the bank planned a mix of employees -- those who are originally from SBI and from associate banks -- so that they get culturally integrated with SBI.
According to SBI, the projected number of staff to be redeployed due to rationalisation of administrative offices and branches is around 10,616.
The bank has said that nearly 30% of the 8,616 staff to be redeployed due to branch rationalisation will be posted in sales functions.
Questioned about the complaints on transfer in Kerala, Vyas replied: "Only 25 employees of erstwhile State Bank of Travancore (SBT) have complained out of 4,300 employees to whom the Career Progression Plan was offered."
He said the unions in SBT had vociferously opposed the career progression scheme prior to the merger.
According to Vyas, the acceptance of the career progression scheme amongst the erstwhile associate bank employees is around 80 per cent now, the same as in SBI.
Queried about the criteria for closure of banks, Vyas said it is based on factors like profitability, viability, period of lease, footfalls and others.
"We are not closing the branches of erstwhile associate banks. Even SBI branches will be closed if they do not fulfill the criteria. We move from rental premises to owned premises wherever possible," Vyas added.
According to Vyas, the total number of branches that would be rationalised will be around 1,400, of which 594 have been completed.
"The remaining will happen over a period of time. Further we will open new branches wherever needed," he added.