Blocked stinking drains, leaks, lack of PPE equipment, and most importantly, a lack of space, have Phoenix mortuary staff stressed and overworked.
At least 20 bodies are piled on the floors due to lack of space, with staff performing up to five autopsies, instead of the usual two, every day.
The disgruntled employees say the facility is overflowing with the dead, and that their complaints are ignored by the Department of Health, with no assistance offered to assist them or the families of the dead.
News24 reports staff as saying the deceased are not being treated with dignity and that the state of the mortuary is horrendous, with inhumane and traumatising working conditions.
The Phoenix mortuary has been under huge strain since the closure of the embattled Gale Street mortuary in Durban in 2020. Employees claim that when they raise issues with district officials, they are victimised and punished.
One worker said the department uses heavy-handed tactics to intimidate them, and if they dare to speak out, staff are suspended by the “arrogant and uncaring" department officials.
Staff are “dejected and demoralised, and we don’t even have basic things like PPE – some of us have to use the same PPE twice”.
They said there was no proper management, a lack of stock, and no support from the district office.
“When you work with dead people, you must be taken out of that environment and assessed to see if you are still psychologically sound. We have raised this issue with management before, but nothing has happened.”
There is also a serious shortage of personnel, with posts left unfilled after staff resign, die or move on.
The source also alleged that drainage system in the post-mortem rooms are blocked, resulting in leaking pipes, so when an autopsy is carried out, water blocks up. “The water ended up going near the X-ray machine once. It becomes dangerous because an X-ray room has a high voltage machine.”
The source said after the Gale Street mortuary in the Durban CBD was shut down, the backlog didn’t just affect staff, but also the families of the dead.
KwaZulu-Natal Cosatu secretary Edwin Mkhize said unions had been aware of the problems for years, but were not receiving assistance from the department and its management.
“The department does not want to do what it is supposed to – there is also a terrible smell at the mortuary, and I have been receiving complaints all week.”
He said Cosatu had previously warned that shutting down the Gale Street mortuary would put a heavy strain on the Phoenix facility. “When the department proposed doing this, we said it was madness. This situation is proving us correct.”
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