Digitalisation of India Post – Stress and impact on postal workers
The modernisation of India Post started in the early 1990s. In those days, the volume of letter mail was approximately 20 million a day which has since declined to less than one million a day due to the increased use of communications technology. The Indian Post introduced many ancillary services to overcome the accompanying revenue decline but they were not able to generate as much revenue as expected. Nonetheless it did not stop the Postal Department from continuing to innovate their services to improve customer experience and income.
The latest initiatives were implemented in 2017 in the form of DARPAN - Digital Advancement of Rural Post Office for A New India. A project aiming to improve and value add to the quality of services and to also achieve “financial inclusion” of the large unbanked rural population in India. The project saw the government investing 140 million rupees (approx. US$1.85 million) to provide low power technological solutions to the one hundred and twenty-nine thousand postal branch offices all over India. As of now, more than 43 thousand branch offices have migrated to the DARPAN project.
The recent digitalisation efforts have impacted the Indian Postal service on many levels. It has simultaneously opened up space for more competition from private players and more collaborative tie ups with online commerce giants such as Amazon and Flipkart. However, the flipside of these changes is the impact on workers.
Challenges – New technology and stressed workforce
The Federation of National Postal Organisations (FNPO), affiliate of UNI, observed that these initiatives were introduced with broad aims of expanding financial inclusion to overcome the rural-urban divide, and to address the waning revenue from traditional postal services. The results are not apparent because of an inherent conflict between the obligation to provide service to the public and the commercial intent behind the new services.
The FNPO also pointed out that a key problem arising from the digitalisation move is the lack of inadequate infrastructure to support the services introduced. Till today, only 70 to 80% of post offices have access to internet facilities. Furthermore, where there is internet connectivity, it is often slow which affects the service delivery process.
The new initiatives also meant the postal workforce was expected to carry out duties such as digital transactions related to savings, cash certificates, and even social security payments for customers. However, many of these duties were expected to be delivered by the staff based on minimal commissions or incidental charges. This is compounded by the lack of training to support service delivery quality. These factors are resulting in a stressed postal workforce.
The aim of providing seamless and convenient services for customers in particular for financial transactions saw the introduction of several heavy-duty software to improve the backend operations workflow of the branch offices. However, the new technologies have directly resulted in a 30 percent redundancy in the postal workforce through the elimination of clerical tasks such as manual recording of transactions in the branch offices.
The FNPO Secretary General, B. Shivakumar says, "The entire workforce are stressed due to modernization with inadequate infrastructure and training. We are also worried because of potential job losses as well. We don't oppose the use of digital technology but it needs to benefit both the workers and customers. Especially during this Covid-19 pandemic which has further increased the stress level and workload on our members."
UNI supports FNPO
Believing that digitalization should be utilized to benefit both customers, society and workers, UNI Post & Logistics Sector has been sharing best practices among our affiliates to balance the impacts of the use of digital services through virtual discussions. Rajendra Acharya, UNI Apro Regional Secretary assures UNI’s support for FNPO’s struggle to protect workers especially during the crisis and also helps them in developing strategies to negotiate a better digitalization approach in the India Post.