Striking KZN mortuary staff told to return to work or be arrested

05 December 2018 - 13:04 By Bongan Mthethwa
KZN health MEC Sibongiseni Dlomo.
KZN health MEC Sibongiseni Dlomo.
Image: Sunday Times

Return to work or face arrest.

That is the ultimatum from KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Sibongiseni Dlomo to striking workers at Fort Napier mortuary in Pietermaritzburg.

If they fail to heed his call, they could face 30 days in jail for being in contempt of court.

Dlomo's warning comes after many failed attempts to persuade the mortuary workers to abandon their strike, which had been going on for two weeks. They are striking over unpaid wages and "hazardous" working conditions.

The workers defied an earlier ultimatum issued by the provincial health department. This was followed by an interim court order to try to interdict them from participating in the unprotected strike. When the workers did not respond to the interim court order, the department filed another application against them for contempt of court.

On Tuesday, the Labour Court granted the final order to interdict the workers from embarking on the strike, as well as for being in contempt of court.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the department said the National Education, Health & Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) had pleaded for the immediate suspension of the implementation of the court order, which would have resulted in the arrest of the striking workers.

The department said Nehawu had agreed to abide by the order from Wednesday.

"The department then affords the workers this very last opportunity to go back to work today and is closely monitoring the situation," it said.

"If the workers fail to return to work at optimum level, the department will be left with no choice but to return to court to ask the judge to lift the suspension of the order so that the laws of dealing with wildcat strikes can be implemented against employees."

The department said it had already begun to address some of the employees' grievances at a provincial level, such as faulty air-conditioning systems and a lack of protective clothing. Other grievances involving remuneration were being dealt with through the ongoing negotiations at national level.

It was recently reported that the go-slow by KZN mortuary workers had resulted in patients who died in public hospitals being left on the floor in wards, traumatising other patients.

"We are going to meet with the workers to explain the implications of the court order," said Nehawu provincial secretary Phakama Ndunakazi.

"In fact, when the department got the interim order, we did explain to them ... the outcome of the labour court on those matters - but the things that they raised have not been addressed," he said.

"At the same time, we are engaging the department because this thing of forcing people to go back to work when things have not been sorted out, we don't think it's correct." 

Ndunakazi said it was up to the workers to decide whether they would comply with his ultimatum to return to work or face arrest. "We are wishing so. We will try to talk to them and explain the situation, but you know how workers are - they will decide whether they are comfortable or not.

"As far as I know as from yesterday, they were not comfortable - but we will try and work with the department," he said.