|Women Encounter Technology: Changing Patterns of Employment in the Third World (UNU, 1995, 356 pages)|
|8. Computerization and women's employment in India's banking sector|
The antiquated Indian banking system has its roots in the nineteenth century. The character and structure of the system has, however, changed substantially since 1969, when the major banks were nationalized. Prior to nationalization, banking was concentrated in urban areas. It was clear that a better banking system was needed to promote the economic goals of the new Indian state. Rural markets for industrial goods could not be developed so long as money lenders, charging usurious rates of interest, were the main source of rural credit. Moreover, the 'green revolution' depended on farmers finding substantial sources of credit to pay for fertilizers and hybrid seeds.
Since the mid-1970s, there has been a spectacular growth in the spatial distribution of bank branches and in the size of their deposits and advances. According to experts in banking this transformation has no parallel anywhere in the world (Anantharam Iyer, 1991). After nationalization, there was also a change in recruitment policy. For the first time, the doors of the banks were opened to everyone, irrespective of family status, caste, community, religion or gender. Recruitment was placed on a more systematic basis, with merit assessed by aptitude tests conducted by an external agency in a relatively impartial manner (Deekshit, 1991).
As the size of the banking sector increased, the industry became difficult to manage. Computer technology offered a possible solution. In India, a small number of industrial houses and a few educational, research and development institutions started using computers in the early 1960s. During the late 1960s and 1970s, service-oriented industries such as airlines, railways and insurance companies introduced computers to 'improve their functioning' and 'to provide better customer service' (Anantharam Iyer, 1991). Banks in India did not, however, introduce computers on a large scale because of the fear that these would result in retrenchment and unemployment (Goodman, 1991). For a long time Indian banks faced very little competition and operated in a protected economy. Thus no long-term policy or perspective for the banking sector was formulated: it was simply treated as part of the public sector. This is now changing. Well-computerized foreign banks are beginning to compete seriously with the nationalized banks. They aim at a profitable and wealthy part of the market and, in contrast to the nationalized banks, do not recognize any social responsibilities to small account holders or to a rural and semi-urban clientele.
Technological changes, legislation and bargaining
In India, the main agents affecting the introduction of new technology have been the unions, management and the workforce. The government has played a very indirect role in the process. In the early days of the massive introduction of computer technology into industry and services, union policies on new technology were basically defensive. They focused almost entirely on the immediate consequences of technological change on the workforce, especially the aspect of possible job losses.
However, these attitudes and the strategies of unions vis-à-vis computerization have begun to change, especially since the 1980s. Management in many places has been able to convince workers and unions that competition is becoming increasingly harsh, and computerization is not only inevitable for the health and survival of the unit but also beneficial to employees, because it may improve the competitiveness of the enterprise, enhance job security and improve employment conditions. Many unions which have consistently opposed computerization have had to face their members who are keen on technological changes. As one EDP employee who is also a unionist put it, 'As a unionist I would oppose computerization, as an employee I would welcome it. That is my dilemma.'
Consequently, unions today are increasingly seeking to influence the process of technological changes so that new technology can be introduced in such a way as to benefit workers and minimise its adverse consequences. The last decade has seen several 'technology agreements' or 'computerization agreements', along with routine collective bargaining agreements which contain clauses related to technology. Despite these agreements, most managers in India, including those in the public sector, have consistently regarded all aspects of technological changes as matters falling within the area of managerial prerogative. When consultation with unions has occurred, these have been far from fair since unions have lacked the requisite know-how and information.
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) installed its first computer in 1968, and a larger one in 1979. But the United Commercial (UCO) Bank, the Standard Chartered Bank, Lloyds' Bank, Grindlays, and others had installed accounting and other machines before 1966. Operations such as payrolls had been computerized fairly early on. Some head offices began to use computers by the beginning of the 1980s.1 In September 1983. two of the major banking unions - the All India Bank Employees Association (AIBEA) and the National Confederation of Banking Employees (NCBE) signed an agreement with the Indian Banks Association (IBA), representing 58 bank managements. The unions wished to maintain surveillance of the process and to protect job prospects in the banking sector, but the final settlement was self-contradictory. On the one hand there were restrictions on computerization, with numerical limits on the numbers of mainframe computers, and even on the number of accounting machines which might be used in rural branches, but there was also a loop-hole which allowed the banks to use 'such number of mini-computers as are warranted by their needs and exigencies'.
The 1983 agreement provided an opening for individual banks to make their own computerization agreements, and many foreign banks immediately took advantage of this 'openness' to negotiate agreements giving them a free hand to introduce new technology, despite the careful restrictive approach of the AIBEA and NCBE.
In March 1987 the AIBEA and NCBE signed a new settlement with the IBA. The settlement was similar in its approach and concerns to the 1983 agreement. Although it allowed for an extension of new technology in both the operations computerized and the equipment used, the concern was largely still with ways of restricting and controlling the use of computers to protect existing staff and preserve the prospects for future staff. The agreements also provided some additional allowances and protection for pregnant women. Taking advantage of the 'openness' clause in the 1983 and 1987 agreements, some of the AIBEA's own affiliates agreed to the installation of automatic teller machines and fax machines, which were beyond the purview of the industry level accord.2 There are signs that the AIBEA has been forced to reverse its earlier relatively liberal stance on computerization because of the campaign spearheaded in recent years by its arch rival, the Bank Employees' Federation of India (BEFI), which has been seeking recognition from the IBA.
However it would be misleading to look at the unions alone in explaining the slow rate of technological innovation. A highly-placed bank executive commented that the management of the banks lack perspective, because of the protection they had enjoyed, and were not really serious about computerization (Goodman, 1991). There is also uncertainty among bank managers about the implications of computerization in terms of the hierarchy and their own positions. Employees of many Indian banks, including the State Bank of India and Bank of Baroda, said that management 'just dumped these machines here. They are hardly used, and some don't work.' A comprehensive policy seems completely absent. In contrast, the multinational banks have computerized almost totally, with the unions unable to have any say.