Bereaved families snubbed

2008-12-04 00:00

GRIEVING families were treated with hostility as workers at the government mortuary in Pietermaritzburg went on an illegal strike yesterday.

The families, who had come to collect the bodies of their loved ones, were turned away from the the Alexandra Road state mortuary.

The workers, including forensic technicians, cleaners and clerks, were protesting because they had not been consulted when their manager was moved to the Pinetown mortuary.

They also complained about overtime and night shift allowances, which they said have not been paid for since 2006.

Ntombifuthi Zondi of Imbali went to the mortuary to collect the body of her nephew yesterday morning to prepare for his funeral tomorrow. “When we arrived, we found workers standing outside and they told us they were not working until their manager comes to talk to them.

“We had to leave without the body, which should be transferred to [the undertaker] to be prepared for the funeral,” said Zondi.

There were two other families who left the mortuary without help.

Health Department spokesman Leon Mbangwa said the protest was illegal as the workers did not go through the Council for Conciliation. Mediation and Arbitration and because they provide an essential public service.

On-duty drivers of mortuary vans were prevented by their managers from joining the protest. The drivers complained that they are not given medical check-ups, despite the risk of infection as a result of working with bodies.

“We have been relocated to the EMRS (Emergency Medical Rescue Service) despite our affairs being handled at the mortuary. We have been told that as the result of the high number of road injuries (over the festive season), we are now going to help paramedics, which we also don’t understand since we don’t report to the EMRS,” said a driver.

The workers said that since 2006 they have not been paid for overtime and night shifts althought they had filled in claim forms.

“We compromise our nights, weekends and holidays. But when we asked about the delay we were told that the district [Health Department] is under-staffed and doesn’t have people to process our claims,” said a worker.

They are also complaining about the condition of the Alexandra Road Mortuary, which they said is a health risk. They said they have not been updated about the progress on a new mortuary, which was promised to them.

“We had a manager, [Bonginkosi] Mngadi, who was in the process of addressing our complaints. But [on Wednesday] he was transferred to Pinetown without us being informed.

“First he went on leave, when he was about to address us about the problems. On the day he was supposed to return, we were told he had been moved to Pinetown,” said a mortuary employee.

Jabulani Mazibuko, who introduced himself as the operations manager from the district, came to

Mortuary strikers hostile talk to the workers, but they refused to talk to him as they said his presence was irrelevant.

They said they would not work until they had talked to Dr Shereen Banu Akoojee, the chief specialist in the KZN Health Department’s forensic pathology services.

Mbangwa said that if the workers do not resume work today, they will be suspended pending disciplinary hearings.

“Their manager [Mngadi] was sent to relieve another manager and he will be back. That was a management decision and there is no obligation to inform them.”

Mbangwa said they should raise the issue of their outstanding payments with their bargaining council.

He said the new mortuary will be completed early next year and apologised to the public “for the inconvenience caused by the protest”.

bhans@witness.co.za

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