Striking workers at the Fort Napier Medico-Legal Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg have been told to return to work on Wednesday or face jail.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for health Sibongiseni Dhlomo said in a statement that if the striking workers don't adhere to the ultimatum they will be in violation of a court order and could spend up to 30 days in jail.
The department has held numerous engagements with the workers in an attempt to persuade them to return to their posts, he said. The employees have been on a go-slow for two weeks.
"The department first issued an ultimatum which was followed by an interim order granted by the court to try and interdict the workers from participating in an illegal strike.
"Another application for being in contempt of a court order was filed by the department. All this action happened simultaneously with the rollout of contingency plans to keep services running amid challenging circumstances that were taking a toll on many grieving families," said Dhlomo.
Two court orders
He added that on Tuesday, the court pronounced on two applications. Firstly, granting the final order to interdict workers from embarking on a wildcat strike and secondly, granting the second court order for the workers being in contempt of court.
However, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union, which also had a representative in court, pleaded for the immediate suspension of the implementation of the court order which would have seen arrests of striking workers from Tuesday.
The union then committed that workers will abide by the order from Wednesday.
"The department then affords the workers this very last opportunity to go back to work on Wednesday. We are closely monitoring the situation.
"If workers fail to return to work and work at optimum level, the department will be left with no option but to return to court to ask the judge to lift the suspension of the order so that laws of dealing with wildcat strikes can be implemented against employees," he said.
Dhlomo assured workers that the department had already begun addressing some of their grievances, such as the need for protective clothing and the faulty air-conditioning system.
Other grievances involving remuneration are being dealt with through ongoing negotiations at national level.