Bodies pile up as Durban mortuary strike halted by court

2017-06-02 13:45
Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Court. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Durban- Forensic pathology laboratory assistants working at one of three mortuaries in the greater Durban area have been ordered to desist from their illegal strike, which has resulted in post mortems grinding to a halt and bodies piling up.

Following an urgent application in Durban’s labour court, Judge Hamilton Cele directed the 20 named employees to immediately report for work at the Pinetown mortuary.

They have also been restrained from disrupting, in any way, the normal functioning of the mortuary and being anywhere near it outside of working hours.

They have until August to respond to the application and give reasons why the interim interdict should not be made final.

The application was launched by Thandi Msimango, acting chief director of eThekwini Metro Health Services for the provincial Department of Health, who was represented by Advocate Faisel Abraham.

Essential service

In her affidavit she said the mortuary was designated an “essential service".

"It carries out, with the assistance of pathologists, post mortems to determine the exact manner in which people have died, which information is provided to the police as evidence in criminal proceedings and inquests.

"The laboratory officers are tasked with assisting the doctors and their duties include fetching bodies from scenes, assisting with the post-mortems, dissection of bodies, acting as scribes and assisting with taking tissue samples and reconstructing bodies."

She said post mortems cannot take place without them which was impacting on releasing bodies to family members for funerals and "hampering the administration of justice".

The trouble began on Monday when she was informed by the facility manager Nosipho Ndebele that a group had gathered in the kitchen "for a meeting".

Ndebele challenged them, asking why they were not following protocol and informing them that there was work to be done.

'Becoming disruptive'

"They apparently appeared agitated and were somewhat aggressive….they said in no uncertain terms that they were going to carry on with their meeting."

Msimango then called them to her office. There they presented her with a memorandum dated June last year, and said they would not return to work unless Ndebele was removed from her post.

"I advised them that I cannot simply at the drop of a hat remove or relocate Ndebele without following due process and procedure as this would constitute an unfair labour practice.

"I undertook to investigate why the memorandum had not been dealt with...when they left, I presumed they would return to work."

But they didn't and the disgruntled group at the mortuary grew in size.

Msimango issued them with an ultimatum but this was ignored.

She said by now the group was "loitering on the premises and becoming disruptive".

"They were intimidating employees who were working...they were engaged in an illegal strike."

'Effectively hamstrung'

In the meantime, SAPS members continued to bring in bodies and, at the time of making the affidavit, there were 14 awaiting post mortems and it was expected that every day this would increase by about another seven.

The other mortuaries were contacted but they said they had no capacity to take on extra work.

Grieving families - some of whom require immediate post mortems for same-day burials in accordance with their religious beliefs - were being affected and police investigations were being hampered.

"We have been effectively hamstrung and we intend to take disciplinary action against those responsible," she said.


Read more on:    durban  |  labour  |  health

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