Mortuary staff strike keeps family from burying baby daughter
Yesterday, Avariya’s uncle Jayesh Indurjeeth spoke out about the tragedy which has been exacerbated by the uncaring attitude of Gale Street Mortuary staff who have been on a go-slow strike.
The family’s religious rituals and funeral arrangements were in limbo all week because they could not obtain the baby’s body. Family who had flown in for the funeral, planned for Wednesday, had to return home.
Avariya was born with a heart complication and, after falling ill last week, underwent surgery at Albert Luthuli Hospital on Sunday night.
“After the operation, the doctors said all we could do was pray, so we knew it was not good. She passed away later that night.
“We confirmed the baby’s body was taken to Gale Street Mortuary and we completed the paperwork. We have been there every day, but unable to obtain her body,” said Indurjeeth yesterday.
He said the unsympathetic attitude and comments from staff at the mortuary had shocked the grieving family.
“When we told the mortuary staff that we had arranged the funeral for Wednesday, one staff member said, ‘How can you arrange a funeral without a body?’ Another said, ‘We don’t care if the body is one day old or 100 years old, we have protocols to follow.’
“They don’t care, they just don’t care, they don’t have an ounce of love in their bodies.”
He added that mortuary staff told him each body had a number and would be released accordingly.
“While we were there, we met other families who had been there every day for three or four weeks.
“Everyone is very upset. If we had been able to have the funeral, the child would be resting in peace now,” he said.
Avariya’s parents launched an urgent application in the Durban High Court yesterday, represented by attorney Rajesh Hiralall. In his affadavit, Avinash, said he had been advised by mortuary staff that the delay in releasing his daughter’s body would be another three weeks because staff were refusing to work, were short-staffed and there was an extreme backlog.
“I became extremely upset by this and informed staff members that I had rituals to perform for my daughter so that her soul may rest in peace and also this was my first and only child. My family is distraught and we need closure. We are unable to wait until three weeks just to perform rituals and to bury my daughter,” he stated in an affidavit.
Judge Charmaine Bolton ordered Gale Street Mortuary to immediately perform the autopsy and release the baby’s body.
Indurjeeth confirmed yesterday that the funeral had been planned for today.
Undertakers plan to seek an urgent interdict at the Durban High Court compelling the Department of Health to solve its labour problems. Vice-chairperson of the Undertakers Forum Ahmed Paruk said: “This is especially with regard to post-mortems.”
The forum was recently formed to tackle the delays which are affecting families around Durban and further afield. Among those are Muslims who require immediate burial.
Carlos Branches, whose brother Adam Venter was murdered on Monday in what has been reported as an ongoing drug war in Sydenham, said he had seen other families at the mortuary who had been waiting for longer than a week.
He implored mortuary staff to understand that the dead are loved ones and are “not trash”, adding that Muslims were required to bury within four hours of death, or at the very least, by the end of the day.
Speaking for the Medical Rights Advocacy Network (Meran) of which members are almost all bio-ethicists, Mary de Haas said the core labour issue at the mortuary was that staff were not correctly qualified.
“People that were appointed were not eligible to do tertiary qualifications. But salary scales are tied to public service salary scales which require tertiary qualifications. Meran has set in motion steps to take mortuaries away from the Department of Health and we have asked the appropriate authorities to appoint a judicial inspectorate for forensic mortuaries.
“The trauma for families due to delays is dreadful - you are dealing with trauma, you want to bury, you want closure, you want to mourn. But staff do as they like. It’s atrocious,” said De Haas.
Late yesterday, the Department of Health issued a statement condemning the delays, saying a contingency plan has been put in place to ensure that all affected families would be able to proceed with funeral arrangements this weekend and that incoming human remains would receive the necessary attention.
“An illegal ‘go-slow’ by mortuary employees earlier this week resulted in delays to the completion of 25 autopsies,” stated the release, confirming the department had locked out all staff who had failed to perform their duties on Thursday.
“The department wishes to apologise for any public inconvenience as a result of this gross dereliction of duty by the workers.
“If the workers, persist with their illegal actions, the department will be left with no option but to implement an existing court order so that laws dealing with wild cat strikes can be implemented against employees.” Additional reporting Jolene Marriah Maharaj,
Independent on Saturday