Nine bank unions on Monday started a nationwide two-day strike against the move to privatise public sector banks and “retrograde” reforms, PTI reported. As many as 10 lakh bank employees and officers were expected to take part in the protest.

The United Forum of Bank Union, an umbrella body of nine bank unions, had called for the strike. This will lead to a four-day break in regular operations as banks were already closed on Saturday and Sunday. Services such as deposits and withdrawal at branches, cheque clearance and loan approvals might be affected due to the strike. But ATMs are likely to function as usual.

All India Bank Officers’ Confederation, All India Bank Employees Association, National Confederation of Bank Employees, All India Bank Officers’ Confederation, Bank Employees Federation of India, Indian National Bank Employees Federation, Indian National Bank Officers’ Congress, National Organisation of Bank Officers, and the National Organisation of Bank Workers took part in Monday’s protest.

Private banks, like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Axis Bank and IndusInd Bank, were not affected, according to The Indian Express. However, these account for only one-third of banking services in the country.

Public sector lenders, including State Bank of India, had informed customers that services in their branches might be affected.

All India Bank Officers Association General Secretary Sowmya Dutta said that nearly all bank employees were participating in the two-day strike. “All banking services are impacted from cash withdrawals to deposits, business transactions, loan process, cheque clearing, account opening and business transactions,” he told PTI.

Dutta added that the protestors took out rallies, wherever permitted, and organised sit-ins across the country on Monday. If the government does not listen to them, he warned, the employees will go for “an even bigger, indefinite strike like the one on the lines of ongoing farmers’ agitation”.

“We are connected with crores of population through our branches, we are educating our customers about the government’s ill policies and how it is going to impact them,” Dutta said.

Why are bank unions protesting?

In the Budget presented on February 1, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced the privatisation of two public sector banks, apart from IDBI bank, as part of the government’s disinvestment plan to generate Rs 1.75 lakh crore.

While Sitharaman did not mention the names shortlisted for privatisation, Reuters reported on February 15 that it includes Bank of Maharashtra, Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank and the Central Bank of India.

Workers are opposing the privatisation move as it could put their jobs at risk. According to estimates from bank unions, Bank of India employs about 50,000 workers, Central Bank of India has 33,000 staff, Indian Overseas Bank has a workforce of 26,000, while Bank of Maharashtra has about 13,000 employees.

All India Bank Employees Association General Secretary CH Venkatachalam told PTI that meetings with the additional chief labour commissioner on March 4, 9 and 10 did not yield any positive result. “Hence, it has been decided to go ahead with the strike for two continuous days on March 15 and 16,” he added. “About 10 lakh bank employees and officers of the banks will participate in the strike.”