After waiting a week to bury their loved one who succumbed to COVID-19, a family’s grief was compounded yesterday after the burial almost did not take place.
Less than two hours before the burial, grave diggers came upon a partially decomposed corpse while preparing the proposed plot. Although they had not yet reached nine feet as stipulated by the COVID-19 guidelines, the workers could not remove the corpse because certain procedures needed to be followed. Kevin Small, a gravedigger and shop steward, explained that they first came across pieces of a coffin and bones which they removed and continued digging.
“While we excavating the dirt, preparing for a COVID-19 body we encounter a body down there that never fully decomposed… It is not sanitary. This is something that is not good for workers to be encountering with,” said Small.
The grave diggers stopped and called the supervisor who told them to abandon the plot and dig another spot. However, he said that was not an easy task since they had to dig nine feet and not the normal six feet because it was a COVID burial. Contractors and General Workers Trade Union (CGWTU) president general Ermine De Bique-Meade explained that the supervisor came to the cemetery at 1.50 pm and told the gravediggers that the Ag CEO instructed that they dig another hole. The burial was carded to take place at 3 pm.
“What I am saying is that because of bad communication what should have been done in the first place is that the cemetery keeper needed to make contact with the family and inform the family what is taking place at present. Let them know that the possibility exists that if these workers have to dig another hole they would not be able to complete the digging of that hole in time for the burial and therefore some sort of arrangement should be put in place for burial for another day,” she said. Instead, De Bique-Meade claimed officials took the highhanded approach and demanded the workers condemn the hole and dig another one. She called on the San Fernando City Corporation to review the way they communicate with workers.
“Yes they are gravediggers but they are humans. There is the OSH Act as it relates to the nature of their job,” she added.
The gravediggers lamented that they work under inhumane conditions. They complained they have no pipe-borne water, poor lighting, no furniture and no proper showers at their workstation.
Meanwhile, when the funeral procession arrived, relatives were shocked and disappointed. Coral King, 82, explained that her son was buried in the spot 12 years ago and she gave permission for her relative to bury her cousin in the same spot. She said, however, the corporation ought to have known that the spot was not ready to be excavated. Some mourners remained in their vehicles while others sought out a shady spot to wait while a new hole was being dug.
Pastor Aziz Abib told Guardian Media that the burials for COVID-19 funerals would usually take half an hour. Noting that they were already waiting for over an hour, he was hoping that the burial would take place before 6 pm.