Government backs down from undertakers, but fight not over yet

Funeral undertakers' decision to rope in the dead in their fight with government appears to have paid off, with the health department conceding that a Certificate of Competency was never a requirement to pick up a body, and that outsourcing of storage was never an issue. "There is no regulation against this demand. There is no requirement for a Certificate of Competency in removing a body… This was done in order to track and trace when the human remains are collected. Local health facilities made those arrangements so that they have a record of where the human remains were being...
Funeral undertakers' decision to rope in the dead in their fight with government appears to have paid off, with the health department conceding that a Certificate of Competency was never a requirement to pick up a body, and that outsourcing of storage was never an issue.

"There is no regulation against this demand. There is no requirement for a Certificate of Competency in removing a body… This was done in order to track and trace when the human remains are collected. Local health facilities made those arrangements so that they have a record of where the human remains were being taken," Murdock Ramathuba, chief environmental health officer, said.

Undertakers had on Monday decided to park their vehicles outside government mortuaries, and refuse to allow any non-government vehicles and workers to collect or transport bodies from accident scenes, homes, or anywhere else where corpses had to be moved from. Bodies have been piling up at state mortuaries, hospitals and private homes since Monday after undertakers vowed that there will be no private removal of bodies until their demands were met.

The competency certificate, outsourcing of storage facilities as well as permission to form consortiums to access bigger contracts are the undertakers' main issues.

The health department said that there was no regulation against these practices but said the issue of the requirement for the competency certificate for the removal of a body was implemented by individual facilities for record keeping.

Ramathuba explained that the reason some facilities insisted on a certificate was to ensure that there was a record of which undertaker removed the body.

He said this would be communicated to all facilities to clear up the confusions and that they would instead strengthen the inspection of the private storage facilities to which the remains were taken.

According to Ramathuba, government has never prohibited the sharing of storage facilities among undertakers, or the forming of consortiums, saying these practices were in fact openly and actively encouraged by government.

"They can come together, register a consortium and then identified a facility which we will then inspect and issue with a Certificate of Competency if it complies. In this case all members of the consortium will have access to the certificate," Ramathuba said.

But despite Ramathuba's apparent concession to their demands to have these requirements dropped on Tuesday, the undertakers grouped under the banner of the Unification Task Team (UTT) are not budging until the agreements are made in writing.

Peter Matlatle, UTT national coordinator, said the strike was not over and that that decision could only be taken and communicated by their national executive.

"We are aware of the agreements but this has not been formally communicated to us, so our action continues until then," he said.

Asked about the conduct of their members stopping non-striking undertakers from removing bodies, Matlatle said they have to ensure that government felt the pressure and those working were detrimental to their cause.

"We want a peaceful protest, but if they are working, government will not feel the pressure. Whether you are on strike or not, you support those on strike," he charged.

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