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 lakhs employees 3.07 lakhs employees are Gramin Dak Sevaks (GDS) mostly working in Branch Post Offices. These GDS 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 2290 to Rs 4575 and 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% of them do not get any promotion during their entire service.
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.
Cause of the strike:
Government refused to include GDS under the purview of 7th Central Pay Commission stating that GDS are not civil servants. Instead, a separate Committee headed by Shri Kamalesh Chandra, Retired Postal Board Member, was appointed to examine the wages and service conditions of GDS. This committee submitted its report to Government on 24-11-2016. 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 report. The All India Conference of All India Postal Employees Union GDS (AIPEU-GDS) which is an affilite of National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE), held in February 2018, decided to go for indefinite strike in the month of May 2018 demanding immediate implementation of positive recommendations of Kamalesh Chandra Committee.
Though other unions served the strike notice unilaterally, AIPEU – GDS took initiative for joint actions. Except the small BMS union having around 4% membership, all the other unions agreed on joint actions. Total unity of almost all the three lakh GDS was maintained throughout the strike, till the end.
Developments during the strike:
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 GDS to withdraw the strike. A pre-condition was made that “strike should be withdrawn first” and then only Minister, 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 sixteen days. There was no fall in percentage of the strike till end and there was no crack in the unity among the GDS anywhere. Victimisation threats also did not work.
All the Postal Federations (NFPE, FNPO, BPEF) also extended full support and solidarity. In states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradeh, Telangana and West Bengal entire departmental employees also went on solidarity strike from 4 days to 10 days. All the Central Trade Unions - (CITU, AITUC and INTUC), Confederation of Central Government Employees & 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 GDS immediately. There was full public support and media support. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, CPI (M), Pinarayi Vijayan, chief minister of LDF government in Kerala wrote letters to Prime Minister demanding immediate settlement. These letters were widely appreciated by the GDS and other postal employees. The left MPs also intervened.
The government compelled to come to a settlement
Realising the fact that the government and BJP were totally isolated among the public, especially among the rural public who have very close personal relationship with the Branch Postmaster and Delivery Agent irrespective of political affiliation, the government was compelled to change its stand. The union cabinet, which met on 6th June 2018, approved some of the major recommendations regarding enhancement of wages of GDS. Though other recommendations are still pending, as the major demand is 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 settlement conceding the demands of farmers, the historic 16 days’ strike of GDS 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 GDS. 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 Postmaster and Delivery Agents. This unbreakable bond among the GDS 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 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 GDS 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 lakhs GDS can, why can’t we” is being seriously discussed.
writer is Secretary General,Confederation of
Central Government Employees & Workers