Dr Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: BAFANA MAHLANGU
Dr Gwen Ramokgopa. Picture: BAFANA MAHLANGU

An apparent lack of financial support for forensic pathology officers (FPO) by the health department is one of the main reasons for the strike at eight of Gauteng’s mortuaries.

About 180 forensic assistants are on strike, claiming they were underpaid and doing work they were not qualified for.

The protest, now in its second week, has led to a backlog of more than 200 bodies at state mortuaries and the number keeps rising.

In April 2006, legislation shifted the forensic mortuaries from the South African Police Service to the Department of Health. After that, a revised salary structure known as occupation specific dispensation (OSD) was introduced.

This was meant to align salaries to the market and enhance upward job mobility.

At the time, the department said the salary structure would provide differentiated remuneration across all sectors of the public-sector health service, cater for the unique needs of the different occupations and prescribe grading structures and job profiles to eliminate variations between provinces.

The head of the department of forensic medicine and pathology at Wits University, Prof Jeanine Vellema, said FPOs at first had four levels to progress in, but two were removed after 2010. That had made it difficult for the officers to advance to higher levels of employment and pay. Vellema said that over time the positions of senior FPOs who left were not filled, but closed.

In April 2016, the OSD hourly rate for sessional forensic pathology officers was R91.

The protesting workers, represented by the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa and National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), said their demands related to the duties performed by FPOs, which they claimed were over and above their scope of work, without adequate pay.

There seems to be no end in sight as the Gauteng health department already has a R10.9bn funding gap because budgeted funds were all taken up by salaries, accumulated debt and payouts for negligence.

In May, health MEC Gwen Ramokgopa conceded that the R40.2bn budget was inadequate to cover requirements, largely because of a substantial debt burden arising from payments owed to suppliers.

This is the second strike in six months by pathology workers and it is continuing even after desperate families have secured court orders for post mortems to be done so that burials can take place.

Nehawu’s Kaya Xaba said they had put recommendations to the department on this national crisis and would await an outcome later in the week on what their next step would be.


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