16 DAYS GLORIOUS GDS ALL INDIA STRIKE
Confederation of Central Govt. Employees & Workers
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 Rs4575 + DA. Other benefits enjoyed by Departmental regular employees like House Rent Allowance, Transport Allowance, Children Educational Allownce, Medical reimbursement, Six months maternity leave, Three Time bound promotion, 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. There are treated as “outside the Civil Service” (Extra-Departmental employees). 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 coditions 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. 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.
Serving of strike notice - Total unity achieved only because of the timely decision of AIPEU-GDS:
Though decision for indefinite strike was taken and announced by our Union, the BMS affiliated union BPEDEU served the indefinite strike notice first in April 2018. Then the AIGDSU and NUGDS (INTUC) jointly served indefinite strike notice from 22-05-2018. Our union was not consulted by the above three GDS Unions. Keeping in mind that the policy of the Government is to be opposed and for that total unity is required, it is decided to serve indefinite strike notice by AIPEU-GDS also from 22-05-2018 itself, from which date other GDS Unions are also going on strike. Thereafter interaction was made with all the other three GDS Unions by personally contacting their leadership. BMS Union expressed their inability to share platform with other unions due to their own reasons and conducted the strike. The other two GDS Unions agreed for jointly moving ahead. Our stand during negotiation and subsequent decisions was that unity should be maintained and our union should not withdraw from the strike unless and until all other unions also decide for withdrawal of the strike. Thus our timely decision to serve strike notice from the same date and also the initiative taken by our leadership in making personal contacts with other GDS Unions resulted in building up total unity of three lakhs GDS and maintaining it through out the strike, till 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 any where. Victimisation threats also did not work.
All the Central Trade Unions (CITU, AITUC and INTUC), Confederation of Central Govt. Employees & Workers, World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and many other organisations extended full support and solidarity to the strike. All the Postal Federations (NFPE, FNPO, BPEF) extended full support and solidarity to the strike. 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. There was full public support and media support. Com. Sitaram Yechury, General Secretary, CPI(M) wrote a letter to Prime Minister demanding immediate settlement. Com.Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister Kerala also wrote letter to Prime Minister.
Modi Govt. was compelled for settlement on the 16th day:
Realising the fact that the Government and BJP 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 suddenly changed its stand and in the Cabinet meeting held on 6th June 2018, major recommendations regarding enhancement of wages of GDS was 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. Call for conducting victory rallies at all places was also given and implemented jointly.
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 Agent. 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.