Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union (CBEU) is the single largest politically independent trade union operating across the banking sector of Sri Lanka

Our HISTORY & Milestones

Our History

The trade union movement of Sri Lanka rose as a result of the suppression of the colonial employers and later developed as a major part of the political struggle of the country to gain independence. At that time there were only foreign banks in operation.

As a direct result of the mistreating of the colonial employers aggravated by the stiff social and economic conditions created after World War II, bank clerks considered to be white collar employees felt the requirement of being organized as a union. They were guided by Comrade A E Gunasinghe, arguably considered as the ‘father of Sri Lankan trade unionism’ and under his patronage “Bank Clerks’ Union” was founded in 1943. This Union was then registered under the Trade Unions Ordinance No. 14 of 1935 on 01/09/1944 under the same name and the registration number allocated was 160.

Legendary Comrade A E Gunasinghe, the founder President of the Union held the Office until 1954. Opening the Membership opportunity all bankers of the country far and wide, irrespective of grade/designation differences, the name “Bank Clerks’ Union” was changed to “Ceylon Bank Employees’ Union”, by way of a resolution passed at the Annual General Meeting of the Union held on 26/1/1956 and this name was registered on 26/3/1956. Due to a failure to meet some compliance requirements of the Trade Unions Ordinance, The Registrar of Trade Unions cancelled CBEU’s registration as a Trade Union on 15/9/1958. However, under the provisions of the section 9 of the above referred Ordinance, CBEU was re-registered as a Trade Union and the registration number given on this occasion was 1151. With the establishment of State owned banks, CBEU membership was extended to them as well. Since then, we continue to journey in accomplishing our objectives against all odds.

Our Milestones

  1. 27-10-1944

    The Roberts Bank Award:- The 1st ever salary scheme awarded for bank clerks by an independent tribunal by Commissioner Mr. T W Roberts, in his capacity as the Arbitrator who was appointed to resolve the above trade union action. Mr. Roberts created two grades for Bank Clerks and gave his findings on certain other matters referred to him.

  2. 1954

    Comrade A E Gunasena stepped down as the President of the Union to take his new position as the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Indonesia. Comrade W K Wijemanna, a lawyer was appointed as the new president.

  3. As a result of constant deliberations and struggles of the Union in collaboration with other trade union movements, Mr. T B Illangaratne, Minister of Labour declared, May Day a holiday. CBEU launched the May Day Rally.
  4. First bank employee President of the Union, Comrade E W de Mel was elected. He represented the Hong Kong Bank Branch Union.
  5. Additional District Judge Mr. Walter Thalagodapitya affirmed his historical Award on Bankers’ Pension to be applicable to all bank employees irrespective of the grade/designation of employment and the award was Gazetted as No. 11,614 on 12/12/1958.
  6. The Office Bearers of the Union, except for the Treasure resigned over a dispute with a decision of the majority of the Central Committee. As a result a very low increment was awarded by both state and private sector banks. Reforms commenced immediately and a massive 108 day strike action was launched on 1/9/1972. Although this action was abandoned on 18/12/1972 due to extreme retaliation by then Minister of Finance Mr. N M Perera, even by enforcing Emergency Regulations, it was a massive boost for the morals of the Members who had virtually lost faith after sudden change in Union Membership. The post action conditions were rigorous. The struggle continued till change of the Minister in 1975. Thereafter some remedies were arrived amicably with the new Minister of Finance Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike.
  7. For the first time, Union enters into a national level political issue by protesting for the extending the term of the Parliament without an election.
  8. Union leaders arrested by the State for falls allegations on conspiring against the government.
  9. A broader and a comprehensive welfare scheme for Members was introduced.
  10. CBEU acquired a new home of its own at No. 20, Temple Road, Maradana and the new house was declared opened on 4/8/1994 by Comrade Oscar Abeyratne, who led the historical 1972 action.
  11. CBEU along with other independent counterparts successfully held a May Day parade and a rally at Hyde Park as usual amidst the prohibition by the State.
  12. CBEU became a founder Member of the Asian Region Bank Employees’ Form along with four other regional counterparts and CBEU takes the pride of hosting the inaugural assembly at Colombo.
  13. More than 5000 private sector bankers rally at Vihara Mahadevi Park, Colombo, Sri Lanka to provide a mandate to stern actions. A token one day strike was fixed for 25/3/1999 with the participation of all member banks. However, employers obtained a restraining order from District Court against same on 24/3/1999. The General Secretary of the Union was on the verge of being imprisoned for Contempt of Court for continuing with the action due to not receipt of the order, but was successfully defended by our lawyers.
  14. On 15/12/2015, one day token strike was launched by the Union against the ill-effects of 2016 budgetary proposals to the banking sector and to the society as a whole. Demonstrating its power, the Union gathered around 15,000 Members in front of Colombo Fort Railway Station for a picket. As a result, the Government was compelled to amend and withhold many of adverse proposals.

@ Ceylon Bank Employees Union.

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