The cost of a regular stamp goes up today from NIS 1.50 to NIS 1.55. Bulk mail rates have dropped a bit, but most of the 78 different postal charges have increased significantly. Few of the changes made by the Communications Ministry, however, have found favor with Israel Postal Company workers who have been threatening a strike but hope that negotiations with management over the next few days will lead to a compromise. The union has been struggling with the ministry for a year and a half, demanding that bulk mail rates be cut significantly to win customers away from private entrepreneurs who are offer cheap but profitable services in the Dan Region, while the Postal Company has to provide services throughout the country, including in the periphery, where services operate at a loss. The union says Communications Minister Ariel Attias has yet to produce a general license setting down what services the Postal Company - which was established last year in place of the Postal Authority - may offer. The union also wants a "security net" for the employees, 450 of whom have been sent on early pension in the last three years. The workers claim management wants to fire hundreds more in the next two years. The union is also demanding that management allow the company to offer many more financial and marketing services to make up for the loss of income from their hoped-for significant reduction in mass mailing rates. Union chief Reuven Karazi said meetings were being held with Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Ofer Eini, who was trying to facilitate the negotiations. "It's shameful that the ministry has been making promise for 1.5 years and not carrying them out," Karazi said. Attias, in announcing the new rates (which can be viewed in Hebrew on the Postal Company's Web site, www.israelpost.co.il), said they would promote competition, and that planned additional services in post offices would be a "significant source of income that will strengthen the financial strength of the Postal Company." He also promised that the status and future of workers would be strengthened as a result. The new rates were recommended by a public committee. For NIS 1.55, the basic stamp now covers mail weighing up to 50 grams, and not a maximum of 20 grams as had been the case. The old 78 rate classes have been reduced to 28 by "reorganizing" the weight groups and the discount schedules for bulk mail, the minister said. Mail that is presorted by the sender is now cheaper to send. Attias said the new rates and the draft version of the new general license were the "final stage of significant reform in the postal service carried out by the ministry." The Postal Company is no longer a monopoly in many services and faces competition from private entrepreneurs, he added. An index for the quality of postal services, including queues in postal branches, has also been set. After this process is completed, said Attias, the ministry intends to expand the number of services supplied by the Postal Bank, which will compete with the commercial banks and improve postal branch services.