News Funeral parlour strike: Undertakers clash with unions in KZN

Funeral parlour strike: Undertakers clash with unions in KZN

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Funeral practitioners around South Africa have downed tools and embarked on strike action on Monday 14 September, with clashes between protesters and funeral directors who declined to participate having unfolded in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) 

The Unification Task Team (UTT) is demanding land so smaller undertakers can build its own storage facilities, while the National Funeral Practitioners of South Africa (Nafupa) have rallied some 3 000 practitioners to join them in strike action. 

UTT call for provision of land to funeral

The protest comes as a result of an unanswered letter to government from Nafupa for mortuaries to be given a bigger piece of the pie and have the outsourcing to mortuaries to be recognised and legalised.

The issue at the heart of Nafupa’s grievances is the persistent use of “bigger players” in the funeral industry who are commissioned by government to handle major state funerals as well as the current backlog of work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The issue is with the government and with the bigger players in the funeral industry. You have a situation where a selected few companies are taking every job that comes through, particularly state funerals,” said Nafupa President Muzi Hlengwa, suggesting that there is rampant corruption being affected by said companies. 

Meanwhile, the UTT – which consists of a collective of 17 funeral associations –  have called for the provision of land from government to enable smaller practitioners to build their own mortuaries. 

“The government of today has lost its capacity to understand the plight and aspirations of the black funeral undertakers, hence deepening neglect, intimidation from the brazen abuse of power by political authorities, and sheer disregard of the voice of black funeral undertakers,” said the UTT in a statement on Monday 14 September. 

KZN funeral director instructed to close by Nafupa 

eTV News reporter Nabeelha Shaikh said that chaos had erupted outside Ndabe Dignified Funerals in KZN on Monday afternoon, with practitioners participating in the strike frustrated with industry partners having remained open across the picket line. 

The owner of Ndabe Dignified Funerals was allegedly threatened and made to close his doors. No chance of the undertakers “burying” their differences, it would seem.

Hlengwa was present when protesters instructed Ndabe to close down his business, and told EWN that he had been politely requested to close down to support the industry.

“We are here to make sure that the touters aren’t taking advantage of the protest,” he said. “We haven’t forced anyone to shut down. Everywhere we went people were closed. The only one that was open was Ndabe, and we asked him nicely to close.”

“He doesn’t have to support the call, he has to do what the industry wants,” he said. “It’s not about Ndabe, this is not his industry. It is industry for everyone. He can’t just do his own thing.”

‘Grave’ concern as burials suspended  

While the practitioners are on strike, no burials or collections of deceased bodies will be taking place. Nafupa have urged families in need of body collection to contact the South African Police Service (SAPS), as they say that the collection of said bodies is the responsibility of government in any case, and that they have actually been providing these services without compensation.

The Department of Health said on Sunday that while they will not allow practitioners to flout the rules, they are willing to sit down with the aggrieved union. 

“We will not allow non-compliance to legislation in this sensitive area. The Department of Health is willing to continue with talks with the funeral parlour sector to come to an amicable solution,” said the Health Department in a statement on Sunday.

“Environmental health practitioners are and will continue to conduct inspections at all funeral undertakers’ premises in the country to check compliance with the regulations. Legal action will be taken against owners of premises found to be in contravention,” they said. 

Government willing to talk with Nafupa  

Government has further called for due-diligence to be conducted on undertakers and mortuaries offering their services to the loved ones of the deceased, saying that a proper structure and protocols must be followed. 

“Family members are urged to check the legitimacy of the undertakers and agents being utilised for overall management of the burial of their loved ones to ensure proper tracking and tracing, and that the handling of the remains is done with dignity and within the law,” said the department.

“We further call upon members of the public to report any illegal operations to ensure the public can be protected from potential risks and the spread of communicable diseases as a result of poor management of human remains.” 

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