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. The service conditions of GDS are worst. They are paid monthly allowances instead of Pay. Allowance paid for minimum 3 hours duty is Rupees 2290/- + DA and for maximum 5 hours duty is Rs.4575 + DA. Other benefits enjoyed by Departmental regular employees like House Rent Allowance, Transport Allowance, Children Educational Allowance, Medical reimbursement, Six months maternity leave, Three Time bound promotions, Earned leave etc. are not granted to GDS. GDS service is not counted for pension. Rent and electricity charges of the Branch Post Offices are paid from the pockets of Branch Post Master. 90% of the GDS retire from service as GDS itself without getting any promotion.
GDS are not treated as Central Government employees. They are treated as “outside the Civil Service” (Extra-Departmental employees). GDS and other postal employees 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. Unlike the past bureaucratic committees, Kamalesh Chandra Committee made many positive recommendations. For a Branch Postmaster minimum wage of 4 hours duty is recommended as Rs.12,000/- + DA and maximum for 5 hours duty as 14,500/- + DA. For other categories of GDS minimum wage recommended for 4 hours is 10,000 + DA and maximum for 5 hrs. is 12,000 + DA. Other benefits like Composite Allowance, Children Education Allowance, Time Bound three promotions, six months maternity leave, 35 days leave etc. are also recommended.
Eventhough the Kamalesh Chandra Committee report was submitted in November 2016, even after a lapse of 18 months, the Government was not ready to implement the report.
Developments during the strike:
Strike was near total in all states and 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 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 any where. Victimisation threats also did not work.
In states like Kerala, Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and West Bengal entire departmental employees also went on solidarity strike from 4 days to 10 days. There was full public support.
Realising the fact that the Government is 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 had to change its stand and in the Cabinet meeting held on 6th June 2018, major recommendations regarding enhancement of wages of GDS were approved. 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.
Lessons of the Strike
After the heroic struggle of the Kisans of Maharashtra, which compelled the Government of Maharashtra to come to settlement conceding the demands of farmers, the historic 16 days strike of GDS also succeeded in compelling the 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 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 Agent. This unbreakable bond among the GDS and rural public contributed a lot in garnering full public support to the strike. This realisation made the Govt. 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 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.