When we think of a Public Sector Trade Unions, particularly from the Banking industry, the image is of strikes, delay, casual attitude towards customers. The Public Sector Banks are actually at the cross roads today.
On one side, many of the trade Unions in the banking sector focus only on their monetary benefits without looking at customer service. This negative approach only helps to drive the customers closer to Private Sector Banks for better service.
Also, on the other side, it is murmured that some of the Chairmen of the Indian PSU Banks try to please their political bosses allegedly by adopting unethical practices, to secure ‘plum posts’ for their post retirement era. Trade Unions also shut their eyes on such practices in their own interests.
Unfortunately, we cannot afford to ignore the concept of Trade Unions in India. If they mind, they can play a more positive role in the Nation building.
Very few trade union leaders have emerged with some vision and enthusiasm transcending the boundaries of employees’ monetary benefits.
In 1981, Corporation Bank Officers Organisation (CBOO) organized their Annual General Body meeting at Mangalore. That was the time, when all the Trade Unions were crippled due to Emergency in India and the Managements were exploiting the employees. One lean young man in the last row who came to watch the Union meeting for the first time, emerged and talked to the audience in a highly matured and in a simple manner without usual ‘trade union style’. His way of communication attracted all the hundreds of members present there. Immediately in a single voice, they made him General Secretary of CBOO to lead the Officers of the Bank, particularly when the Trade Union movement was facing a lot of challenges. The young visitor was surprised and started his new journey as a ‘Trade Union leader’. When he entered the Union Meeting hall, he never expected that he would be leading the Bank Officers for the rest of his service in the Bank.
That young man of 1981 is Mr T Ramachandra Bhat, popularly known in Indian Banking circle as T R Bhat, presently the Chairman of CBOO. Eventually, before long, he rose to the level of Joint General Secretary of All India Bank Officers Confederation (AIBOC), the official and non-political Trade Union of the Bank supervisory staff with more than 2.50 lakh members. AIBOC is the world’s largest Trade Union body of the Supervisory staff in any industry. He is retiring from Corporation Bank on the last day of December 2009, after nearly three decades of his leadership.
His simplicity, his deep knowledge on banking, his honesty have earned him a great name as ‘UnPurchasable leader’. Presently, he is leading around 4500 bank officers in his bank, besides other bank officers. Throughout his stint as a Trade Union leader, he has been following values and ethics personally and promoting them amongst the members of CBOO.
Before demanding ‘transparency in administration’ from his Bank management, he started practicing it in his own Union. While the attitude of many of the political and trade union leaders seems to be to hide their omissions and commissions from their followers, Mr Bhat was open to admit any fault of his. That made him a credible and trusted leader amongst his banking colleagues in India.
In 2002, when Mr Bhat took some decisions as a leader, persuaded his office-bearers to engage an independent agency to study the perception of the members of the Union across the country. The Agency submitted a confidential report to him detailing the areas, where he went wrong. To everybody’s surprise, the entire report was circulated verbatim amongst the members of the Union. Even his critics appreciated him for his transparency. While none of the Managements will dare to ever circulate a critical review fearing Image loss, as a trade union leader, he was transparent with his members and enhanced his image.
He visualized the trends ahead of time and started preparing his members for the changes, as a Trade Union leader. There were occasions, while other Trade Unions used to oppose some measures of the Government or Bank Managements, as a loner he would support those measures, leading to criticisms. He was thinking pro actively for the benefit of the Institution and to the Society.
While all the bank employees, were resisting computerization in 1980s, he was motivating his Bank Management to go for computerization. Though, at that period, it was seen differently, later, the reality was Corporation Bank became pioneer in technology which enabled better customer service. While all the Trade Unions opposed ‘VRS’ scheme by Banks, he demanded VRS to be implemented in his bank, to give way for new generation. In the long run, such pro-active measures brought benefit to the system.
He set up an Education and Training Wing in his Union, to train his members to the changing realities of the system. While all the Trade Unions used to invite politicians for their Annual General Meetings, he developed a policy of inviting only Nationally eminent scholars to share their views with their members.
For the first time in any Trade Union movement in India, he introduced the concept of ‘CSR’ in his Union, by creating a Trust known as ‘Swasti’ to help the poor and downtrodden in different parts of the country. Since the Bank branches are situated across the country and their members are well connected with the society, they can reach out to the poor personally with a better understanding. Such ‘out of the box’ activities of the Union made the members understand the society well to offer a better customer service.
For the past 28 years, he has been editing a monthly newsletter titled ‘Officers Voice’. The newsletter is circulated among the members and various bank and government authorities. Because the contents are rich and informative, many of the top Management executives and policy makers are regular readers of this newsletter.
Even today, you can walk into any branch of Corporation Bank and enquire about Mr T R Bhat with any of the officers. They all hold him in high esteem almost unanimously.
As a Trade Union leader, he believed the development of good HR practices would improve the morale and quality of customer service. For the first time in India, by any Trade Union, he engaged in 2006, a reputed independent agency to study the HR aspects of Officers of Corporation Bank. Though this exercise was to have been done by the Management, the Union took the initiative. He shared the copy with all his members and also with the then Chairman of the Bank. The report went into cold storage apparently.
Even at National level, he has silently played a positive role. During 2004, Reserve Bank wanted to amend Banking Regulation Act. Under the initiative of Mr Bhat, AIBOC set up an Independent Commission on ‘Banking and Financial Policy’ under the Chairmanship of Former Finance Secretary Mr S P Shukla and few other renowned banking and economic experts. Though the Government did not accept the report officially, the input was helpful to them in understanding the situation.
I had a freewheeling conversation with him over phone to understand his views after nearly three decades of his role in the Trade Union. When I asked him, what was his greatest disappointment at the time of his leaving the Bank, he answered, “We are not able to change the mindset of the Corporation Bank Management, in spite of all our pro-active and positive approach. When we, as a trade union, have changed according to times, the old mindset of management still continues. Officers are not considered as partners in the development and not taken into confidence while framing the HR and business policies. Though, as a Trade Union, we are transparent, the Management is lacking in transparency’.
The Bank officers have organized a felicitation function for Mr Bhat during the last week of Dec 09 at Mangalore. While, one of the past chairmen is participating, unfortunately, the present Management does not find it worthy an event associate itself, even as a gesture of goodwill and to honour him for his pro-active and positive contributions to the Banking industry.
Managements use high sounding jargons on HR and IR. When it comes to reality, they yield only to violence and blackmailing. It is sad they do not understand the language of simplicity, honesty and pro-active visionary approach of Trade Unions. Only because of such poor HR policy of such Banks ‘blackmailers’ are encouraged and ‘visionaries’ suffer in silence without space.
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