The bodies are piling up at state-owned mortuaries around KwaZulu-Natal as a decision by Health Department staff to embark on a go-slow over non-paid wages and “hazardous” working conditions spread around the province.
On Monday, the Pinetown Medico-Legal Mortuary had 32 bodies while Park Rynie Medico-Legal Mortuary had 12 bodies awaiting post-mortems.
On Thursday, workers at the Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg went on a go-slow and processed only two bodies as opposed to the norm of 12 daily. The facility had a backlog of 26 bodies on the day. An employee there yesterday said 25 bodies had been transferred to Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital.
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“As we speak, we are again sitting with 26 bodies. We will do only two bodies until our demands are met. We are aware that other mortuaries have joined in the action and the pain the relatives of the deceased will go through should be attributed to the Health MEC (Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo) because he is the key to settling the impasse,” said the employee.
The Public and Allied Workers’ Union of SA (Pawusa) said the impasse dated back to 2006 when the department took over the mortuaries from the police service. Pawusa provincial secretary Halalisani Gumede said that at the time the department took over, experienced and newly-employed workers were graded the same.
Yesterday, Gumede said there had been ongoing talks with the department, followed by strikes and go-slows, but the department had failed to come up with a solution to the problem.
“In 2009, the department promised to pay those whose grades were lowered in 2006, but that never happened. There was a point where we requested workers such as drivers and cleaners to assist in the processing of bodies due to the lack of staff. We have since encouraged our members to embark on a go-slow because the department has failed over all these years to keep its side of the bargain,” Gumede said.
He said the Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street mortuary, which received between 40 and 50 bodies a week, was expected to the join the action today. Gumede said there had been talks with shop stewards to have staff at all provincial mortuaries join the action.
In 2010, the Daily News reported that generators at the Magwaza Maphalala Street mortuary were sabotaged, fridges switched off, identification tags cut from bodies and corpses mixed up, allegedly by striking workers.
Dr Imran Keeka, the DA’s provincial health spokesperson, yesterday said Dhlomo had “done nothing” to resolve the issues that were repeatedly raised by employees. “This is as a direct result of the lack of commitment by the MEC and, sadly, results in the molestation of the dignity of the deceased. Families incur costs with the repeated postponements of funerals and the prolonged pain and mourning before closure is found.”
The KwaZulu-Natal Funeral Directors Association said Dhlomo should have dealt with the employees’ issues as he had known about them for years.