Health Dept warns over planned 3-day funerals strike

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Some of the funeral industry is planning a three-day national shutdown in a bid to get government’s attention over a long list of demands it wants addressed. News24 notes the call for the shutdown was led by the Unification Task Team (UTT) – a grouping of 17 funeral associations and forums – and was planned to begin Monday (14 September).

During the shutdown, there would be no removal of bodies from hospitals or homes and there would be no burials, UTT national co-ordinator, Peter Matlatle, said. UTT said the government had not done enough to ensure the industry was diverse and transformed. It said that since 1994, the industry was still dominated by “white minority capital” and a handful of “black elites”.

Its long list of demands was directed to several government departments, including: Health, Home Affairs, Small Business Development and Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs. The Road Accident Fund, National Consumer Commission and Financial Services Conduct Authority were also included on the list.

Among other things, the UTT wants the outsourcing of mortuary facilities to be recognised and legalised, as well as for all funeral directors sharing storage facility on a lease agreement or ownership to each qualify for ownership of the certificate of competence for that particular facility.

The SA Funeral Practitioners Association, however, said it would not be taking part in the shutdown, its deputy president Ndabe Ngcobo describing the move as a “destructive” and “inhumane” action.

 

In a second News24 report, the Health Department warned the strike could have serious repercussions for public health. “This is very concerning as this action may lead to undesired conditions and risks to public health,” its spokesperson Popo Maja said.

The department maintained that 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”.

 

The national Health Department that the shutdown may lead to “undesired conditions and risks to public health”. Department spokesperson Popo Maja said in The Herald they had had two meetings with the funeral industry after an open letter by the National Funeral Practitioners Association of SA (Nafupa). Maja said Nafupa was the only association that had written to them.

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. He said that environmental health practitioners would continue to conduct inspections of funeral undertakers’ premises in the country to check on compliance with the regulations.

 

Nafupa SA said there would be no body removals from hospitals or homes, no burials and no funeral supplies in the next three days. This could lead to a health hazard and a possible spike in coronavirus infections even as the government was expected to relax lockdown regulations and move to level one soon.

Business Day reports that Nafupa SA deputy secretary-general Dalisu Gumede said day one of the strike yesterday had been effective. “We managed to cease industry operations across the country. The first day was 100% successful. We have also managed to reach agreements with associations that are not striking to close their operations in solidarity with us,” said Gumede.

He reportedly told Business Day they had not yet received feedback from the government regarding their demands. Gumede said the police would have to collect the bodies of those who died while the strike was ongoing.

There were incidents of violence across Gauteng, KZN and the Eastern Cape, according to Libo Mnisi, president of the SA Funeral Practitioners Association, which represents more than 900 big funeral operators and is not taking part in the strike.

“The business premises of those who are not taking part in the strike were destroyed by the protesters. Computers were destroyed and (so were) coffins displayed in showrooms. This is denting our image as funeral practitioners,” Mnisi is quoted as saying by Business Day. He said bodies were not being fetched from homes and hospitals, and this was a health disaster waiting to happen because it could “lead to a flare-up of infections”.

Health expert, Professor Francois Venter, a member of the ministerial advisory committee on health, said: “Healthcare under lockdown has suffered deeply: vaccines, HIV, TB, routine surgery, you name it. This (strike) will just make things worse. (Things are) so bleak, we didn’t need more challenges.”

 

Undertakers in the Western Cape largely did not participate in the strike, according to a Cape Times report. Emergency Medical Services and Forensic Pathology Services spokesperson Deanna Bessick said they were not able to determine the impact of the strike as yet, but added that none of the undertakers contracted to the department formed part of the strike.

United Undertakers Front co-ordinator Kenny McDillon said they chose to take a neutral stance for a number of reasons. “We have taken a neutral stance, saying we are speaking to the province and none of our undertakers have gone on any strike. There are maybe a few that were forced to close offices but otherwise we have operated as normal. Cape Town is also a large base for the Muslim community and we respect their same-day method of burial, so if we think of striking we must consider those people as well.”

He said parties are expected to meet today to discuss a way forward. “While undertakers today operated as normal we don’t know what tomorrow or the rest of the week holds.”

 

First News24 report

 

Second News24 report

 

Full report in The Herald

 

Full Business Day report

 

Full Cape Times report (subscription needed)

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