The Gauteng health department yesterday denied claims by unions that mortuary workers were forced to conduct autopsies, despite the fact that this fell outside the scope of their job description.
The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) made the claims before going on strike two weeks ago, saying that the department must hire more doctors to conduct autopsies instead of leaving it up to pathologists to do, as they do not get paid for the work.
But yesterday, the department sent a statement written by Professor Gert Saayman, head of the Forensic Pathology Department at the University of Pretoria, disputing this claim.
He said workers employed to assist forensic pathologists knew that their work would entail the dissection of bodies.
“It is clear from most of these reports that there is a severe lack of knowledge regarding the practice of forensic death investigations,” he said.
“Every person who has applied for a position as a forensic officer within the respective provincial departments of health knew full well and in advance what the scope and nature of their expected duties would be: in particular, they knew that they would be expected to assist with dissection and evisceration duties – this has been standard practice for decades. No person applies for a job which entails working with and dissecting dead bodies and is unaware of the nature of the duties which will be expected of them!”
Nehawu this week held talks with the health department, together with other unions, after their two-week strike led to a backlog of about 200 bodies to be released to families around the province.
Nehawu spokesperson Khaya Xaba said after reaching a settlement with government, union leaders intended to convince workers to return to work over the weekend and put in overtime to deal with the backlog.