IN the department of posts, there are 1,55,000 post offices out of which 1,29,346 are branch post offices functioning in rural villages. Out of five lakh employees, 3.07 lakh employees are gramin dak sevaks (GDS) mostly working in branch post offices. They are not treated as government employees but as ‘extra departmental employees’. The service conditions of GDS are very bad. They are paid a meagre monthly allowance instead of regular salary. Depending upon the work hours, it varies from Rs 2,290 to Rs 4,575 and a DA per month. They are denied the other benefits available to the regular employees. The branch post master has to pay the rent and electricity expenses of the branch post office, from his or her own pocket. 90 per cent of them do not get any promotion during their entire service.
The National Federation of P&T Employees (NFPTE) and later National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE) conducted several agitational programmes including strikes in the past, demanding regularisation and better service conditions for GDS, as a result of which some improvements in service conditions could be made.
CAUSES OF THE STRIKE
The government refused to include gramin dak sevaks under the purview of 7th Central Pay Commission stating that they are not civil servants. Instead, a separate committee headed by Kamalesh Chandra, retired Postal Board member, was appointed to examine the wages and service conditions of gramin dak sevaks. This committee submitted its report to the government on November 24, 2016. It made several positive recommendations including increase in allowances, composite allowance, education allowance, three time-bound promotions, paid maternity leave for six months, 35 days leave etc.
But, even after a lapse of 18 months, the government was not ready to implement the recommendations. The all India conference of the All India Postal Employees Union GDS (AIPEU-GDS) which is an affiliate of National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE), held in February 2018, decided to go for an indefinite strike in the month of May 2018 demanding immediate implementation of the positive recommendations of Kamalesh Chandra Committee.
Though other unions served the strike notice unilaterally, AIPEU-GDS took the initiative for joint actions. Except the small BMS union having around 4 per cent membership, all the other unions agreed on joint actions. Total unity of almost all the three lakh gramin dak sevaks was maintained throughout the strike, till the end.
DEVELOPMENTS DURING THE STRIKE
The strike was near total in all states as all the four unions were on strike. Government’s attempt to break the strike failed. Secretary, Department of Posts, issued two appeals to the unions and also individually to all striking gramin dak sevaks to withdraw the strike. A pre- condition was made that “strike should be withdrawn first” and only then the minister for communications will discuss with union leaders. All the four striking GDS unions rejected the appeal and also “withdraw the strike first and then only discussion” stand of the government and the strike continued for 16 days. There was no fall in percentage of the strike till the end and there was no crack in the unity among the gramin dak sevaks anywhere. Victimisation threats also did not work.
All the Postal Federations (NFPE, FNPO, BPEF) also extended full support and solidarity. In states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal, the entire departmental employees also went on solidarity strike from 4-10 days. All the central trade unions – CITU, AITUC and INTUC, Confederation of Central Government Employees and Workers, World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and many other organisations – extended full support and solidarity to the strike. The central trade unions also wrote to the minister, communications demanding amicable settlement of the genuine demands of the gramin dak sevaks immediately. There was full public support and media support. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of CPI(M), Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of the LDF government in Kerala wrote letters to prime minister demanding immediate settlement. These letters were widely appreciated by the gramin dak sevaks and other postal employees. The Left MPs also intervened.
GOVERNMENT COMPELLED TO
COME TO A SETTLEMENT
Realising the fact that the government and the BJP were totally isolated among the public, especially among the rural public who have very close personal relationship with the branch post-masters and delivery agents irrespective of political affiliation, the government was compelled to change its stand. The union cabinet, which met on June 6, 2018, approved some of the major recommendations regarding the enhancement of wages of gramin dak sevaks. Though other recommendations are still pending, as the major demand has been approved, all the GDS unions unanimously decided to call off the indefinite strike on the 16th day. They gave the call for conducting joint victory rallies at all places, which was implemented all over the country.
LESSONS OF THE STRIKE
After the heroic struggle of the kisans of Maharashtra, which compelled the BJP government of Maharashtra to come to a settlement conceding the demands of farmers, the historic 16 days strike of the gramin dak sevaks also succeeded in compelling the most anti-labour Modi government to come down and settle the major demand. This was made possible only because of the rock-like unity of the striking gramin dak sevaks. All attempts of the Modi government to break the strike miserably failed. Being rural postal employees, the public had a very deep attachment and personal contact with the branch post-master and delivery agents. This unbreakable bond among the gramin dak sevaks and rural public contributed a lot in garnering full public support to the strike. When the strike went on, not only the GDS employees but the public, including those supporting the BJP, started turning against the government and the political leadership of the BJP has understood that the strike has struck at the very root of their political base in the villages. This realisation made them to come down from their authoritarian stand. Most significant part of the strike is that the gramin dak sevaks belonging to different states, culture, language, religion and caste stood like one man and fought the battle unitedly as a class defeating the mechanisations of the communal elements to divide the working class in the name of caste, religion, language etc. This strike has its own implication among other sections of the toiling masses and a new thinking “If three lakh gramin dak sevaks can, why can’t we” is being seriously discussed.