The Health & Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa has described the situation in Gauteng mortuaries as "dire", as cleaners have been called in to help perform autopsies as bodies pile up, with hundreds of mortuary workers having downed tools.
The National Health Education & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) has insisted its workers are not on strike but are only doing what is stipulated in their contracts by refusing to work.
Nehawu spokesperson, Khaya Xaba told News24 that the members were only employed to put bodies onto beds so that the pathologists could conduct autopsies, but that they had been assisting with autopsies for years now.
Nehawu members would no longer do so unless a pay rise is given and learnerships are offered to workers to become registered pathologists.
But Jack Bloom, DA health spokesman in Gauteng told eNCA this was not true.
"I have established that their duties explicitly include the following as contained in a recent job advert for a grade one forensic pathology officer: 'Assist in rendering an efficient forensic autopsy process (which includes evisceration, scribing, and typing) in accordance with set standards and guidelines by assisting the forensic pathologists in autopsies'," he said.
Bloom said at least three court orders had been obtained by Muslim families to secure autopsies for their dead, as they are religiously required to bury their dead within 24 hours of death.
Hospersa described the situation to News24 as "dire".
"The department of health has been using staff such as cleaners to cut bodies and perform autopsies. You cannot be remunerated for doing something you are not trained to do," spokesperson Fazeela Fayers told News24.
Bloom reportedly said there was now a backlog of over 200 bodies in Gauteng, and that it had been hoped this would be reduced when military health staff were brought in. But only seven members were available.
"Pathologists have heroically worked without assistants over this long weekend, but new bodies are coming in all the time and they cannot cope. As there is no fridge space, bodies are being piled on top of each other," he said.