||Issue No. 147||09 August 2002|
A Call to Action
Interview: Save Our Souls
Unions: Rats With Wings
Bad Boss: If The Boot Fits
History: Political Bower Birds
International: No More Business as Usual
Corporate: The Seven Deadly Sins of Capitalism
Review: Prepare To Bend
Satire: Bush Boosts Sharemarket Confidence: Shares his Cocaine Stash
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Heard about the 16-week-old foetus stored in the vegetable bin of a fridge at a residential address in Welling Drive, Narellan Vale, or the four-year-old prepared for burial on the kitchen table at the same address?
No? Well neither did Camden Local Court and that's got a former funeral director and the Funeral Workers Union spitting chips.
Both point fingers at a Health Department which still managed to get three convictions registered against GK Pride Funeral Directors on charges relating to using unauthorised premises for the storage and preparation of bodies.
Union secretary, Aiden Nye, lashed the department as "ignorant and incompetent" in its handling of the case.
Middle-aged former funeral director, Rosemary, not her real name, just shakes her head and sheds a tear.
She was the force driving the Pride prosecution but believes the Health Department let down her and, more importantly, the families whose loved ones were treated with "such disrespect".
This story began when Rosemary chucked in her long-time job as a salesperson to join two others in founding GK Pride. The business opened on July 1, 2001, but six weeks later Rosemary was out the door, distressed by her partners' insistence on "putting dollars ahead of decency".
She sat at home and mulled over the things she had seen until another funeral director pointed her in the direction of the union.
Discussions with Nye convinced her she should report activities at the Welling Dr house to the Health Department.
"It wasn't an easy thing to do," Rosemary says. "These families had been through the most painful times in their lives and they didn't need to be reminded of their losses.
"On the other hand, I wanted to prevent any other families suffering the indignities their loved ones had been through."
With Nye's support, she visited the Health Department's Liverpool office and drafted a statement about the goings-on at Welling Drive.
Nye described her experience that day as humiliating.
"They didn't know what to do, it was embarrassing," he said. "Trying to put that statement together was the most embarrassing four bloody hours of my life."
Worse, much worse, though, was to come.
Amidst a flurry of abusive and threatening phone calls to Rosemary's home the Health Department tried to pull the plug on the action, suggesting it would be preferable to let the matter rest.
When they finally got to court, they told Rosemary, as it had taken them more than six months to bring the prosecution they would be unable to act on the foetus or four-year-old allegations in her statutory declaration.
After convictions were entered, the Department declined to seek costs from the company, even to cover Rosemary's lost wages and travel expenses.
Nye labelled that action "piss poor".
More significant, he argues, it points to the mindset of a department which wants further de-regulation of the funeral industry.
That is the option being canvassed in the upcoming review of industry regulations.
The Welling Dr case, Nye insists, arose because the Department allowed funeral directors to register business premises in residential areas, "as long as they have access to mortuary facilities".
"Pride got the green light from Camden Council to establish an office in Narellan Vale but what is any business going to do when it picks up a body from that area and its mortuary facility is miles away at MacQuarrie Fields?" he asks.
"They make a business decision and the current situation encourages them."
He worries about the potential to spread infectious diseases as well as the propriety of storing bodies at residential addresses. It wasn't so long ago that he came across another operation storing bodies overnight in a garage attached to a Five Dock home.
Workers Online understands that more disturbing and sensational revelations will be aired when another case goes before the courts next month.
Nye warns that if Health Minister, Craig Knowles, generally a champion of industry standards, doesn't move against his bureaucrats we will see a return to the "bodgey" behaviour rampant before regulations were adopted in 1988.
Those regulations arose out of the Cross Report, which inspected 65 businesses, over a nine-week period in 1987.
It found, in part, that "although the majority of the operators in the industry endeavour to maintain a relatively high standard of procedures, services and ethics as espoused by the Funeral Directors Association of NSW, it was apparent that some operators failed to provide the most rudimentary basic requisites in respect to buildings, vehicles and services.
"Although most operators provide a high standard of services and observe the Code of Ethics of the Association, in my opinion some operators failed to uphold the industry's perceived standard of ethics, whilst a few had no concept of such a requirement."
Some of the examples discovered by Commissioner Cross, less than 15 years ago, follow. In most instances, he said, the businesses operated with council approval:
- An operator, in the business for more than 100 years, storing bodies on a dirt floor contaminated with straw and manure. There were no adequate washing facilities available.
- An operator, "whose office is in one location and mortuary in another" who used a "very, very old shed" to prepare bodies in open view of passing members of the public. Bodies were prepared on a cracked, uneven concrete floor and "body waste from this area flowed into an open drain on the street which then flowed into an open creek". This operator carried out an average of 103 funerals a year and had no adequate washing facilities.
- A business using a vehicle to "transport deceased persons whose cause of death was infectious or contagious diseases" which doubled as a team bus for kids' footy sides.
- A rat infested house with a commercial refrigerator attached, preparing bodies for burial, within two metres of the kitchen where food was being cooked.
Nye says the currernt deregulatory mood is "ill informed". He argues regulation is necessary for the health of his members and the general public.
Rosemary sees the point but her outrage is fuelled by an altogether more spiritual concern.
"I didn't agree with taking bodies back to the house or storing foetuses in a fridge, it was disrespectful," she said.
"To me, it doesn't matter what mistakes you have made with your life when you die, if at no other time, you are entitled to dignity and respect. Being a funeral director is a privileged position, you have an opportunity to bring comfort and dignity to people at the most vulnerable times in their lives.
"People who take on that role must be trustworthy and do it for reasons other than just money.
"I didn't last long but some of the things I saw in that time I couldn't even discuss with my husband. I hope they are things that never happen to other families in the future."
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