More than a dozen bereaved families were left in the lurch on Friday due a go-slow by Pietermaritzburg’s Medico-Legal Mortuary staff protesting over “unbearable” working conditions.On Friday there were reportedly more than 25 bodies waiting for autopsies in the government morgue but the forensic pathology staff said they would only process two bodies a day until the Department of Health (DoH) gave in to their demands.Families waiting to pick up their loved ones to be buried during the weekend were told autopsies had not been done so they should return this week.The mortuary services Msunduzi, Richmond and Mooi River.The staff accused the DoH of ignoring their grievances for more than three years. These include the fact that air conditioners are not working, old uniforms and lack of cleaning equipment.All public toilets, including the stall for the disabled, have big “out of order” stickers on the doors and are said to not have worked for more than three months.“The environment is not conducive [to work] — it’s become a health hazard and the department keeps promising to attend to these thing but it never does. Our colleagues are getting sick and dying right in front of us and we have to conduct autopsies on them but we never get any counselling,” said Nehawu’s site steward Malibongwe Simelane.Simelane said they last received the scrub suits and gumboots they wear when they conduct autopsies in 2010.The air conditioner in the area where the autopsies and X-rays are done is said to have last worked in 2012.“The floor in the working area needs to be thoroughly scrubbed daily because of blood and other things but the department doesn’t even bother to send brooms and soap timeously. The brooms that we are using now were bought by staff members and sometimes we go for three months without soap,” said another staff member.Two of the four vehicles used for picking up bodies from crime or accident scenes allegedly have faulty brakes.“We are supposed to do about four autopsies a day but we work overtime — even though the department refuses to us for pay for it — to do all the bodies before Friday of every week so that families can bury their loved ones. But this week we will not be going the extra mile for anyone,” staff members said.“... We always go the extra mile because we understand that we are serving the public but the government treats us like what we’re doing doesn’t matter,” said Simelane.He said they would not be prioritising anyone for a weekend burial so they should all wait their turn, including his cousin, who died last week. “I’ve told my aunt there is nothing I can do to release the body even though the funeral arrangements have been made.”Mayor Themba Njilo, who went to the mortuary after receiving distress calls from bereaved families, said he would try to engage provincial government to see if the bodies could not be moved to another morgue while negotiations between the staff and DoH continued.Health Department spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said in response to an inquiry that the department was “not aware of the issues stated by The Witness”.“The department is, however, aware of other internal matters raised by employees that are being attended to by the national Department of Health. A meeting was held in this regard by senior management whereby employees were informed of this,” said Mafunda.“Furthermore, employees were reminded of the appropriate channels and procedure to follow, should they wish to lodge grievances. They were also reminded of their status as providers of an essential service and informed that should they continue engaging in what constitutes an illegal and unprotected strike, they will bear the consequences.”Major inconvenience for familiesNdwedwe pensioner Mlandeni Ngcobo wished the department told them about the strike before Friday as his family had gone to great expense preparing for the funeral of his grandson, Kwenza Ngcobo.“People have come from all over the country for the funeral. We’ve bought food, hired marquees and other things that cannot wait until next week,” he said.His sentiments were shared by the family of the late Doris Thabethe (93), who was meant to be buried on Saturday. They said they had already slaughtered a cow for the funeral.“They told us she is number eight on the list so we will probably get the body on Wednesday,” said one family member.