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Postal Employees Strike Work Despite Assurances, Allege Govt. Actions Do Not Match Words

Ronak Chhabra |
In a meeting held earlier this month, Centre assured employees of “no proposal to corporatise” postal department; employees’ federation, however, accuses former of weakening the government department.
Demonstrations by striking postal employees were staged across the country on Wednesday. Image clicked in Kerala’s Kasaragod district. Courtesy - Facebook

Demonstrations by striking postal employees were staged across the country on Wednesday. Image clicked in Kerala’s Kasaragod district. Courtesy - Facebook

New Delhi: Days after the Central government claimed there was “no proposal for corporatisation” of the postal department, a section of its employees went ahead with a work strike action, impacting the state-run delivery mail services for a day, after stressing that former’s words and actions are at odds.

Close to 70% of employees of the Department of Posts (DoP), which trades under the name of India Post, abstained from their duties in protest on Wednesday to flay the recent policy decisions of the Narendra Modi – led Central Government to turn the government department under Union Ministry of Communications into a corporate entity.

The striking employees, led by the National Federation of Postal Employees (NFPE), are apprehensive that once transformed into a corporation, the department, whose services touch the lives of many people in the country, will eventually see the sword of privatisation dangling over it – which would be in line with the Centre’s overall push towards disinvestment.

The move, according to them, will not only severely affect the five lakh strong postal workforce, but also the general public, especially those in rural areas, who depend on India Post in multiple ways: from delivering post mails to depositing their meagre savings in exchange for decent interest, among others.

Postal operations were affected in an “overwhelming majority” of the 23 postal circles across the country, owing to the one-day work strike of employees, NFPE secretary general Janardan Mazumdar informed NewsClick in a telephone interview on Wednesday. 

“Employees in every wing of the department participated in today’s action as they are worried over the future of the India Post,” Mazumdar said, hinting that the federation’s call to strike was successful.

The strike on Wednesday, supported earlier by a joint council of postal employees, was staged after officials of the DoP, in a meeting held on August 5 over the council’s 20-point charter of demands, assured the former that there was “no proposal for corporatisation” of the government department, according to minutes of the meeting.

Taking note of it, the Indian Nation Trade Union Congress–affiliated federation withdrew its support for the strike earlier this week.

“The NFPE went ahead with the strike action as we believe that the Centre’s actions do not match their words,” Mazumdar told NewsClick on Wednesday. “On one hand, we are told that there is no proposal to corporatise the postal department but at the same time, the Centre is also taking actions aimed at weakening our department.”

In this backdrop, among what worries NFPE the most is the Centre’s recent suggestion to merge the postal department’s banking and insurance operations with one payments bank, a corporate entity under DoP, and the alleged subsumption of the department’s existing postal outlets that are franchised out, into a revamped scheme.

According to the federation, the first proposal was made earlier in January this year when the Centre approved a budget outlay for the next phase of ‘IT Modernisation’ of India Post – the first one was approved back in November 2012 – and suggested the migration of post office savings bank accounts to India Post Payments Bank (IPPB).

IPPB, as the first public sector enterprise under DoP, was incorporated in September 2018 to provide technical support in modernising the latter’s financial products in line with standard banking practices. 

NewsClick has earlier reported on why the federation believes that the proposed merger is not in the interest of nearly 30 crore investors, mostly poor, who have cumulatively made investments worth Rs. 10 lakh crore under the Post Office’s small savings scheme. 

NFPE argues that since last year, to meet the demand for more post offices in the country, the Centre is also pushing for the participation of third-party institutions and private corporates within the core postal operations of the India Post, under what is called the ‘Dak Mitra’ scheme.

On Wednesday, Mazumdar underscored that nearly half of the department’s revenue is generated from post office banks, through which the savings scheme is operated. “Merging these banks with IPPB will directly affect revenues of the postal department. Growth of franchises will also in no way help the department to sustain its finances,” he told NewsClick.

On its part, to be sure, the Centre, in the meeting mentioned above, provided assurances to the federations on both these worries. According to the minutes of the meeting, the DoP officials stated that there is “no proposal of taking over” the work of post office banks by the IPPB; nor is there any scheme named “Dak Mitra”, that is being run by the postal department.

The officials, however, contended that it has partnered with Common Services Centres (CSC) in an “effort to provide basic postal services to all”. As per one report, CSC’s 4.5 lakh Village-Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs) across the country will soon be allowed to book Speed Posts and registered parcels through its centralised portal.

Asked specifically about these assurances, Mazumdar remarked that his federation has taken note of them. “But, to be honest, when compared to its action, the Centre is only making contradictory statements. What if tomorrow they go ahead with the corporatisation of DoP? Hence, it was important to let the government know through our one-day strike action that the employees are strongly against any such move,” he said.

All India Railway Mail Services (RMS) and Mail Motor Services (MMS) Employees Union leader P Suresh told NewsClick on Wednesday that employees within the RMS and MMS (Mail Motor Services) will go on an “indefinite strike” in days to come, in case the Centre pushes for the corporatisation of the postal department. 

“Already, the government is trying to delink the Indian Railways from postal operations. This will affect the employment of nearly 30% of the postal employees,” Suresh said. His union is one among those affiliated with NFPE and had participated in Wednesday’s strike.

Similarly, P Pandurangarao, national general secretary of the All India Postal Employees Union told NewsClick that majority of the Gramin Dak Sevaks in the country were also on strike on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the one-day strike action by postal employees was also supported by the 10 Central Trade Unions. “Various sections of government departments/establishments are being forced to go on strike because [of] the Government’s adamant stand on privatizing everything…” the Joint Platform of trade unions said in a statement on Tuesday.

The joint statement further highlighted that the cost of posting will not only increase but postal services will also not be made available to the rural population if private courier services are allowed to flourish at the cost of India Post.

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