Striking workers barricaded the gates of the Fort Napier Medico Legal Mortuary in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday. The striking forensic staff were joined by other NEHAWU members from different regions of the province
The protesters carried placards aimed at KwaZulu-Natal Health MEC Sibongiseni Dhlomo.
Mortuary staff have been on a go-slow since November for a wage increase and better working conditions. They have previously told GroundUp that conditions at the mortuary are shocking. Workers are demanding backpay they say they were promised on 1 April.
The KZN Department of Health issued an ultimatum for the workers to return to work or face arrest.
"They must come and arrest us. We don't care," said one of the workers.
"Dhlomo has failed to honour his promises as the head of the department," said Nokubonga Magwenyane. "We are not the ones striking; Dhlomo is. Workers are on a go-slow; there is a difference. On Monday police came here ... They took the cars, car keys and the stationery. There is no register ... How are we supposed to work? ... He must stop misleading the public. He is the one who is not working."
Joshua Simelane, NEHAWU chairperson in the Harry Gwala Region, who also works at the mortuary, said, "We met with the national officials on Tuesday who deployed Dhlomo to deal with the matter provincially. Prior to that, on Monday, the unions met in Gauteng to discuss about the money issue. Dhlomo is the one who promised to pay workers ... That has never happened. We are happy that other mortuaries in KZN have joined us. Mortuaries in Durban have also shut down completely," said Simelane.
COSATU provincial chairperson Skhumbuzo Mdlalose said, "Workers are raising genuine issues which need to be investigated. Whatever call they are making for the MEC to be removed, as COSATU we are going to look into that ... The Department of Health has serious issues ... We have met with Dhlomo as COSATU. To our surprise it has been a disappointment."
We tried to get comment from Dhlomo's office but were referred to a Department of Health statement. It is an ultimatum to striking staff at the Fort Napier mortuary to return to work on Wednesday or face arrest for up to 30 days for contempt of court. The statement said this comes after numerous attempts to persuade workers to abandon the go-slow. The strike is undeclared and the workers are classified as providing an essential service according to the department.
"Dead bodies are no child's play. When you deal with such you need support. We are not getting that from this department. Court interdicts are nothing compared to what we deal with every day," said a worker.