Why are banks silent on coronavirus data of their employees?

 Last week during a conference call after its quarterly results, a leading private bank stonewalled questions on how many of its employees were infected by the coronavirus and how many have died.

The management bluntly said it won’t disclose the data. Other banks, including those in the public sector, too, haven’t shared information on how the coronavirus, which has ripped through India in a furious second wave, has affected their staff. Why are banks refusing to disclose COVID-19 data? Unlike many other sectors, most bank employees don’t have the luxury of working from home, putting them at risk as they deal with the public.

Probably banks fear that once the information is made public, their business will suffer. Banks may have to close down branches where cases are high, thus, hitting their operations.

But what about the safety of their staff? Many bank employees have taken to social media to highlight the rising number of cases in their branches, hinting they are not being treated fairly

According to CH Venkatachalam, general secretary of All India Bank Employees Association, the number of employees infected by COVID-19 is around one lakh across 12 public sector banks, 20 private lenders and some major foreign banks. There are more than 10 lakh bank employees in the country.

“The death toll till December was around 600. Now, this number has gone up to 1,000,” Venkatachalam said. State Bank of India has been the most infections, he said.

In March, a parliamentary committee had recognised bankers as “COVID warriors” but there has been no official notification, Venkatachalam said.  “COVID-19 warriors” can get vaccine on priority.

While there is no official data on COVID-19 cases among bank employees, reports from across the country shine a light on the severity of the situation.

In April, the Maha Gujarat Bank Employees' Association (MGBEA) said nearly 15,000 employees had tested positive in Gujarat and more than 30 of them died during the second wave. Nearly 10,000 employees were infected in March across the state, the association said.

In February, the Indian Banks Association (IBA) wrote to the government, seeking priority vaccination for bank employees. The IBA said 600 employees had died till December.

Banks often force employees to attend office and those who do not comply face penal actions. Much of the bank work can be done digitally, without endangering the lives of the staff. And if the banks want them at work, then they should ensure that employees are vaccinated on priority.

Employees are caught in a spot and many are declining transfers from hometowns to metro areas, fearing COVID-19. On the other hand, there are people in cities who have completed their tenure and waiting for transfer to the safety of their home towns. Typically, a bank employee serves in a branch for a maximum of three years.