Bodies have begun piling up at the Medico-Legal Mortuary in Magwaza Maphalala (Gale) Street after angry staff downed tools on Tuesday in protest against two colleagues who they claim were abusive to them.
The wildcat strike has resulted in families not being able to finalise funeral plans.
Labour unions have stepped in to try to resolve the dispute at the mortuary, which attends to at least 12 new cases of body pick-ups and post mortems a day.
According to staff at the mortuary, they are forced to work with two colleagues who have been verbally and, in some cases, physically, abusing them. Staff also claimed that these two staff members were the cause of many internal disputes.
Speaking to the Daily News on condition of anonymity, employees said the abuse had been going on for many years.
“This did not just start last month. This has been happening for a long time. They are rude to us. They swear at us and call us names,” a worker claimed.
Another said the colleagues, a male and a female, had been abusive to her for the past two years.
“I reported the incidents to my superiors but nothing was done. No action was taken. I had to eventually seek clinical psychological assessment as a result of the abuse. I was under a lot of trauma. I want them removed from the facility,” the employee said.
Another said she had to change her work shift so she did not see the pair.
“For me, this started in 2006. They would swear at me. I was even assaulted. As a result, I asked to be put on another shift. After a while, that shift became inconvenient and I had to go back to my previous shift. Once I was back on that shift, I was again abused,” she said.
The employees said they do not feel comfortable at work.
It is believed that last week the two employees were removed from the facility.
According to a staff member, they were told that the two had to be removed “for their safety”.
“We do not even know what that was supposed to mean. How are they unsafe?
“They are the ones verbally abusing others,” the man said.
In a petition sent to management, workers listed their grievances with the two staff members.
They cited the mistreatment of other staff, who had allegedly resorted to absconding from work or changing shifts.
They claimed that the man and the woman had links with people in the Department of Health and could hire and fire people at will.
In the petition they demanded that both employees be removed.
“We feel discontent and unhappiness in an environment that is not conducive to work in.
“We also feel intimidated, threatened and victimised by these employees and the arrogant and ignorant attitude applied by these employees towards the staff and management. These employees show tendencies to be above the law and reproach,” the petition stated.
A meeting was held between trade unions and management at the mortuary on Tuesday.
Ayanda Zulu, Durban secretary at the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), said the meeting did not yield any positive results.
“The meeting reached a deadlock without any clear resolution. We are consulting members to normalise the situation.
“We have further requested that the officials in question be afforded an opportunity to relocate for their own safety for the procedures to unfold,” Zulu said.
Meanwhile, a Durban family is just one of many families who are unable to continue with burial ceremonies for family members.
Selvan Odayar, whose relative died at the weekend, was unable to bury his family member because the body was not released.
The KZN Department of Health has apologised to families inconvenienced by the disruptions at the mortuary.
Spokesperson Ncumisa Mafunda said this was an internal matter and was being addressed within the dictates of the Labour Relations Act and other applicable rules and protocols.
“The department can confirm that it is involved in ongoing discussions with organised labour as part of efforts to find an amicable solution to the matter,” she said.