Bankers in Bengaluru work in a state of fear and insecurity
Unsung Covid warriors: None to bank on
Bengaluru: They are not the frontline warriors. Unfortunately, so. They are, however, courageous workers risking their own lives to serve us.
Much like doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and 'pourakarmikas', they have been on the frontline, working diligently and putting themselves and their families at a grave risk.
Bankers are among the millions of employees in the country who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 owing to their regular and constant exposure to customers. In Bengaluru, the city with the third-highest caseload in the country, bankers are working in a sense of fear and insecurity as the threat of contracting the virus haunts them.
The city has over 1.7 lakh people infected with Covid-19 surpassing even Mumbai. The Covid-19 has put more than 11 lakh dedicated women and men working in the banking sector to the test.
The death of 39-year-old Pitta Rajesh, SBI branch manager in Vizag, due to Covid-19 has left not just the SBI employees in Bengaluru, but entire banking community in a state of shock and fear. According to reports, Pitta Rajesh was denied leave despite testing positive for Covid-19.
Even as the virus continues to spread, bank employees in the city and rest of the state have been rendering the services on a par with doctors, nurses and the police personnel.
"When the entire nation was under lockdown during the pandemic, banks remained open as the banking sector had been exempted from the lockdown. We have been providing essential services to the people just like medical healthcare workers and police personnel, but unlike them the bankers have not even been provided with PPE kits although we are fully exposed to the virus.
One of our colleagues, Pitta Rajesh, succumbed to the virus because he was refused leave by his seniors even as he suffered from Covid symptoms. By the time he was granted leave, our colleague was tested positive. By then, it was too late.
It is tragic that we lost our colleague," says D Padmini who works as a manager (Operations) with a public sector bank in India's own Silicon Valley. Customers who have the option to transact online continue to visit the branch for passbook update or balance enquiry putting their own and the lives of bankers at a risk, says Padmini. The 33-year-old banker said customers often throw 'Covid caution' to the winds.
They do not wear face masks. Physical distance is not maintained. "They fight with bankers and abuse us when we ask them to wear face mask or ask them to use sanitizers before entering the bank premises or advise them to maintain physical distance," says Padmini.
"It doesn't end here," she continues. In this pandemic time, the manager's call of duty seems to have gone beyond keeping the balance sheet tidy or reclassifying borrowers. If a staffer is tested Covid positive, the manager "runs from pillar to post" to ensure the bank is sanitized or the bank is sealed down. The manager also has to ensure that other employees undergo Covid tests.
"We are expected to provide 100% customer service even under these trying conditions. There should be zero customer complaints even during the pandemic period. Isn't it the responsibility of the government and the citizens alike to take care of the bankers who have always taken care of them and their needs," asks Padmini. Padmini's colleague Archana thinks the management's main concern is achieving business targets.
"They are always after the numbers game. Business is all that matters to the superiors. Employees cannot avail leaves even if they are unwell. We are asked to produce Covid positive test results for leaves to be sanctioned. Earlier, even if one employee was to test Covid positive, the entire branch would be closed.
Now, only the employee who is tested positive gets leave, that too after producing Covid test result. For the rest of the staff, it is business usual. It is a thankless job, especially the frontline staff working in bank branches. They are most vulnerable to Covid-19," says 34-year-old Archana.
Chaitra, a resident of Vijaynagar who works as a cashier with State Bank of India, tested positive recently. She thinks corona made her super famous. "Earlier, no one knew about me. After Covid-19, I have become 'thumba' famous," laughs the 36-year-old banker. She visited the BBMP fever hospital after she showed Covid-19 symptoms like cold and fever. "I had fever, cold and headache. They gave paracematol and a tablet for throat infection as I have tonsils.
Subsequently, I was admitted to Aster RV hospital in J P Nagar where they tested for coronavirus and the result was positive. The seventh day, I had dysentery. After 17 days, I fully recovered from the infection. I was discharged from the hospital and resumed work. In all, I incurred aboutRs 4 lakh, the most expensive was oximeter," says Charita.
While the central government allowed IT/ITeS employees to work from home, it had directed banks to keep all banking channels open. The bankers, think, such policies are lopsided especially when most banking services are online. "Core banking activities continued to function even during the lockdown period. It is just that most customers, especially, the elderly do not prefer internet banking.
They keep coming for even passbook updates even though we had temporarily suspended the service during the lockdown period," says Padmini, a mother to five-year-old son. The biggest worry for the bankers, like other frontline warriors, is the threat of bringing virus home but continue to operate bravely in silence. After a hard day's work, several bankers feel scared to go home. The work pressure and the fear of contracting virus is taking a massive toll on the bankers.