Health MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo at the Fort Napier Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg, where he stepped in to perform two autopsies.
Durban - Health MEC MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo has criticised a go-slow by forensic pathology services staff at the Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg, which has severely affected several families’ plans to bury their loved ones.

Dhlomo said the employees did not belong to any recognised labour group.

The mortuary staff normally perform 12 autopsies a day, but only two autopsies have been completed daily during the go-slow.

According to a statement issued by the Health Department yesterday, the facility now has a backlog of 26 bodies that need to be processed.

On Wednesday Dhlomo went to the mortuary, where he performed two autopsies.

He instructed his department’s legal unit to get a court interdict to force the employees to return to optimal performance, or face expulsion in terms of labour legislation which governs essential services.

“We were informed that there is a crisis at the Fort Napier Mortuary, where workers want to force the department to discuss issues that are being dealt with at the National Bargaining Council. We’ve actually indicated to them that these issues are being dealt with. We know that this action is not led by the union. They are not part of this,” Dhlomo said.

“They’re doing two bodies a day. As a result, bodies have been piling up. We’ve asked the department to urgently get an interdict to get them out of the premises or go to work fully.”

He said families were at the facility, desperate and crying.

“They are supposed to have buried relatives over the weekend, and they have not. The people of South Africa will judge for themselves what kind of people these are. I am here to add my weight to contribute towards making sure that families will be able to bury their loved ones, starting from tomorrow and the weekend. We want to make sure that families are able to bury their loved ones,” he said.

However, the Public and Allied Workers’ Union of South Africa (Pawusa) denied Dhlomo’s claim that the workers are not unionised.

Pawusa provincial secretary Halalisani Gumede said the workers were represented by different unions, including Pawusa.

“This all emanates from the department’s failure to maintain that facility. The department does not adhere to the Occupational Health and Safety regulations and that’s why the workers are not happy, especially with the working conditions. The department is failing to fix even the air conditioning in that mortuary,” Gumede said.

He said working conditions at the mortuary were a health hazard. He said there was an agreement between the unions and the acting department head, Dr Musa Gumede, that workers would be paid for performing extra duties, such as dissecting bodies, while they preformed their other tasks.

“That was in December 2017, but suddenly the department ignored the agreement. Now, how can you expect people to perform to their maximum potential under hazardous conditions with the department failing to honour an agreement? This is ridiculous and MEC Dhlomo has been undermining the workers’ rights for some time now,” he said.

Asked to comment on the union’s allegations, the department responded: “Even if that’s the case, do you think what they are doing is justifiable?”

Daily News