MUST READ: No end in sight for mortuary strike

The strike by mortuary employees that began on 8 June in Johannesburg, subsequently spreading into various parts of Gauteng has continued into its second week.

Desperate families now find themselves waiting anxiously for the backlog of more than 200 bodies to be addressed so they can bury their loved ones.

About 180 forensic assistants across 10 State mortuaries downed tools over an apparent pay grievance and resorted to the ‘work-to-rule’ action, which requires that an employee expressly executes duties only for which they are mandated. Shadow MEC for Health in Gauteng, Jack Bloom, however, labelled the strike action as illegal and cited that what trade unions claim is not a strike, but rather a ‘working-to-rule’ process – by doing only what is in their job description – is false.

Read: UPDATE: Court strikes Hillbrow stabbing case from the roll

“I have established, as contained in a recent job advert for a Grade 1 Forensic Pathology Officer, that their duties explicitly include assisting in rendering an efficient forensic autopsy process (which includes evisceration, scribing and typing) in accordance with set standards and guidelines by assisting the forensic pathologists in autopsies,” said Bloom.

“[Furthermore] I know of three court orders brought by Muslim families who are religiously required to bury within 24 hours of death. It is tragic that the court has to step in because of the pathetic mishandling of this strike by the Gauteng Health Department.
“Families were hopeful that the backlog would be speedily cut when military health personnel were brought in to assist last week, but this turned out to be only seven people… new bodies are coming in all the time and pathologists cannot cope.”

The worst affected mortuaries are Hillbrow, Germiston, Diepkloof and Germiston.

The Gauteng MEC for Health Gwendoline Ramokgopa met with families at the Diepkloof Centre near the Diepkloof Government Mortuary where forensic assistants held staff hostage during strike action on 16 June. “The Gauteng Department of Health’s main interest in this matter is to ensure that reasonable concerns of all staff are addressed and that services for the public resume as soon as possible,” said Ramokgopa.

The Health Department added that as part of a contingency plan to contain the impact of the work-to-rule action by mortuary employees, the South African Military Health Services had been roped in to assist with autopsies since 14 June. The military officials have been deployed at the worst-hit facilities.

Read: Bloom claims overcrowding at Edenvale Hospital

In conclusion, Bloom said that workers had legitimate pay grievances. “The department has already agreed to danger pay and to the reversal of the Occupational Specific Dispensation (OSD) which was disastrously implemented in 2009 and resulted in a pay cut for forensic officers. There is no reason for this strike, as remaining grievances can be addressed in the Bargaining Chamber, but the problem is that the Department has low credibility because of previously unfulfilled promises in this matter,” he said in reference to a similar strike in December last year.

“An urgent court order should be brought against the illegal strikers who disrespect the dead and are causing incredible anguish to relatives waiting more than 10 days, in some instances, to bury loved ones.

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Tshepiso Mametela

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