Despite being lauded as Corona warriors by the Union government, bank workers have a tough time availing of facilities available to other frontline workers. With their demands being constantly ignored by authorities, bankers speak about the challenges they face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 28, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on Management of Covid Pandemic had lauded the efforts of bank employees. Photo: By Arrangement
Even as a parliamentary standing committee has lauded the efforts of the banking sector during the pandemic and called them ‘COVID19 warriors’, bankers have a lot to complain about.
“The government has declared us Corona warriors, but that has made no difference to our lives. Both we and customers coming to the bank are not safe. Bank employees must be vaccinated on a priority basis and banks must be sanitised, but nothing has been done,” rued Santosh Tiwari, branch manager of Baroda UP Gramin Bank in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly district, who is battling a COVID-19 infection.
“Besides me, three others in my branch have tested positive for Corona. In Bareilly district, there are 327 Gramin bank employees, and 45 of them are infected. A total of 87 employees are on leave because they are unwell,” Tiwari told Gaon Connection.
Tiwari is also the zonal president of the All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC) and the state secretary of the All India Regional Rural Bank Officers Federation (AIRRBO), and is aware of what’s happening in his region.
On March 28, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Home Affairs on Management of Covid Pandemic had lauded the efforts of bank employees. “The committee notes and appreciates the efforts and pain taken by the banking sector for providing uninterrupted and seamless banking facilities during the Covid-19 outbreak and the consequent lockdown…In their sincere effort to provide continuous service, many of the bank officials also lost their valuable life,” the committee had said in its report.
“The committee, therefore, places on record the good work done by the banking sector right from the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic and observes that they are also recognised as Covid-19 warriors,” the committee added.
The reality is very different. In Bareilly district itself, there are a total of 3,900 rural bank employees, and as per data cited by bank unions, four persons have lost their lives due to COVID-19.
Across Uttar Pradesh, 18,000 people work for rural banks.
Tiwari told Gaon Connection that on April 27, in a letter addressed to the State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) and the state’s chief secretary, demands were raised for better treatment of bankers. “Following this, the working hours were reduced till 2 in the afternoon, but nothing else was done,” he added.
The apathy of authorities towards bank employees can be discerned from a ‘show cause notice’ issued by the block medical officer in Jodhpur’s Falodi town in Rajasthan. The notice was addressed to the in-charge of a primary health centre who had vaccinated bank workers in Falodi’s Keshav Nagar area.
“On April 24, 2021, you vaccinated bank workers after considering them as frontline workers, even though these workers are not being counted as frontline workers by the administration,” the notice issued by Mahavir Bhati read.
“Please provide a pointwise clarification or else you shall be solely responsible for the punitive action taken against you,” the letter added. Gaon Connection tried to contact the block medical officer but he did not respond to calls.
Sandeep Akhauri, joint coordinator of the Indian Bank Officers Association, told Gaon Connection from Mumbai that bankers across the country are facing troubles in trying to prove themselves as frontline workers. “Many banks haven’t yet decided the compensation for families of bankers who die of COVID-19 in the course of their duty. The families of deceased Corona warriors should ideally be paid fifty lakh rupees as compensation, but nothing has been decided yet,” he said.
“There are orders for banks to function with fifty per cent capacity, but that is simply not feasible because we are already understaffed as many employees have tested positive or are in quarantine because their families have tested positive,” Akhauri added.
“Most banks have few doors and windows, because of safety reasons. So, if any worker is infected, then it becomes easier for the infection to spread to other workers due to poor ventilation,” Saurabh Srivastava, a senior representative from the Bank of India Officers’ Association of Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand told Gaon Connection.
The banker’s comments are validated by Parul M Sharma, a Gurgaon-based senior surgeon at Max Eyecare who wrote in a Twitter post: “People working in Banks are at high risk for covid due to closed AC spaces. Keep doors n windows open, AC on, use pedestal fans full speed faced away from face. Wear a double mask (surgical below and cloth mask above or two cloth masks). Do not eat together with colleagues indoors.”