With the provincial Health Department locked in talks with striking mortuary workers, the situation in government mortuaries in Pietermaritzburg and Durban is reportedly getting worse.
“In some mortuaries families have been waiting for more than two weeks for the release of the bodies of their loved ones.
“A solution has to be found as soon as possible as the current situation can’t be allowed to continue,” a senior official in the department’s pathology services unit said.
This comes as the go-slow strike in government facilities — such as the Pietermaritzburg Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary and Pinetown’s Medico-Legal Mortuary — had resulted in bodies piling up.
According to the official there is currently a backlog of 28 bodies at the Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary.
The mortuary employees, who should process 12 bodies a day to avert backlogs that could create a health crisis, are currently processing only two.
The workers are striking over poor working conditions.
Representatives of the workers on Thursday afternoon were still locked in talks with department officials.
Democratic Alliance provincial spokesperson on health, Imran Keeka, said the impact of the mortuary strike was now being felt in hospitals and clinics across the province.
“... There is no one to collect bodies and take them to the government mortuaries,” he said.
The workers, who had been embroiled in a protracted dispute with the department over salaries and working conditions in general, engaged in protests before plunging facilities such as Durban’s Gale Street mortuary that receives about 50 bodies a week, into a crisis.
Keeka said the current strike was far worse than any of the previous ones.
“People are having to wait for long periods of time to get the bodies of their family members processed.
“... The dispute should have been resolved a long time ago but Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo kept on reneging on promises he had made to the workers.
“What the employees are striking over are old issues which the MEC should have resolved several years ago,” he said.
The strike at the Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary has so far resulted in a Pietermaritzburg mother postponing her toddler’s funeral three times.
The woman finally buried her toddler on Sunday after a 10-day delay in the release of the body.
The department is yet to respond to media queries on the strike.