Picture: Bernat Armangue/AP
Picture: Bernat Armangue/AP

Undertakers threaten strike action

By Roland Mpofu Time of article published Sep 13, 2020

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UNDERTAKERS are threatening to go on strike, saying all members of 17 black funeral associations and forums would be non-operational in all provinces from tomorrow.

According to the co-ordinator of the Unification Task Team, Peter Matlatle, the association has given notice to the National Health Department that its members will embark on a national strike starting from tomorrow that will affect all hospitals across the country after failing to reach an agreement on the outsourcing of mortuary facilities owned by black funeral undertakers to be recognised and legalised amid the Covid-19 lockdown.

“For many years, this industry has engaged government officials on different levels and spheres, as far as industry regulations are a concern.

“But those noble efforts fell on deaf ears, and economic transformation is still a dream. After all the back and forth, multiple meetings, extensive discussions and reaching out to the government, we absolutely have nothing to show apart from empty promises,” said Matlatle.

He said all funeral activities will be non-operational across the country and tombstones must not be erected.

Matlatle said their demands sent to the department are: “We want the outsourcing of mortuary facilities to be recognised and legalised, all funeral directors sharing storage facility on a lease agreement or ownership (including communal ownership) must each qualify for ownership of the certificate of competence (COC) for that particular facility. COC should only be a requirement for a building of storage and management of human remains.”

National Health spokesperson Popo Maja there have been reports of challenges in relation to removal and collection of human remains from health facilities to private mortuaries and undertakers’ premises by private undertakers and agents.

“In terms of the regulations, no person shall prepare or store any human remains except on approved funeral undertakers’ premises or mortuary in respect of which a COC has been issued by the relevant local authority. Reports indicate that health facilities are refusing to release human remains to private funeral undertakers unless they produce the COC," said Maja.

Matlatle disagrees: “We are saying if the government doesn’t allow us the issue of storage sharing let them close public and private hospitals, and government mortuaries without storages, meaning those institutions are not complying. We can’t afford to be regulated by apartheid laws of 1949.”

In a statement issued today, Department of Health spokesperson Popo Maja, said all funeral undertakers and mortuary premises used in connection with the preparation, storage and preservation of human remains must be in possession of a valid certificate of competence issued by the relevant local authority.

“Environmental health practitioners are and will continue to conduct inspections in all funeral undertakers’ premises in the country to check compliance to the Regulations. Legal action will be taken against owners of premises found to be in contravention,” he said.

Maja urged family members to check the legitimacy of the undertakers and agents being utilised for overall management of the burial of their loved ones to ensure proper tracking and tracing and that the handling of the remains is done with dignity and within the law.

He added that environmental health practitioners in district and/or metropolitan municipalities can be contacted for assistance on any issues relating to the management of human remains and for advice to ensure compliance to the regulations.

“We further call upon members of the public to report any illegal operations to ensure the public can be protected from potential risks and the spread of communicable diseases as a result of poor management of human remains.

“We will not allow non-compliance to legislation in this sensitive area. The Department of Health is willing to continue with talks with the funeral parlour sector to come to an amicable solution,” Maja said.

Sunday Independent

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