NSW morgue staff to strike over fears bodies could go missing

The Daily Telegraph, 26 September 2023

Staff at the state’s main morgue which handles unnatural deaths – such as murder victims and gangland shooting fatalities – are set to walk off the job over working conditions, in a move which could lead to a backlog of bodies at local hospitals.

Staff at the state’s main morgue which deals with murder victims and other unnatural deaths will walk off the job tomorrow in protest over workloads and a new body-tracking database they say could result in them “losing” a body.

Sixteen mortuary technicians at the Forensic Medicine and Coroners’ Court complex at Lidcombe will strike for 24 hours from Wednesday afternoon over frustrations with NSW Health management.

The facility is reserved for cases who have died from unnatural causes and have been referred for examination by the NSW Police, such as gangland shooting victims.

The mortuary workers say their concerns revolve around a new database ushered in by management last year, which replaced a former in-house system used to track bodies and referred to as “Deadbase” by staff.

Sources say the new system fails to keep track of key features such as status and level of decomposition of bodies, while a recent glitch resulted in the ID system crashing, meaning staff had to manually re-identify every body.

“There’s concerns we could lose a deceased person through the gaps in this system because we’ve had close calls before,” a worker at the facility, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

“With this new system we’ve had negotiations with management for 10 months now, we’re getting nowhere and we’re worried about the impact this’ll have on families.”

The 16 Health Services Union members at the Lidcombe complex will be joined by workers at morgues in Newcastle and Wollongong who will also strike in solidarity.

Staff say they also want an extra five technicians to deal with soaring workloads at the complex, which handles about 20 arrivals per day.

“Overtime is through the roof … People are pulling 12 hours shifts and doing ridiculous hours to cover the deficit,” the staff member said.

According to staff the strike will mean bodies can’t be released to funeral directors during the 24 hour strike, while hospitals and other morgue facilities would be forced to hold bodies instead of sending them to the Lidcombe complex until staff return.

Health Services Union NSW Secretary Gerard Hayes said the scenario was a “classic example of the relentless outsourcing that health workers must deal with”.

“The bodies of our recently deceased loved ones deserve dignity, not cost cutting,” he said.

A NSW Health pathology spokeswoman said a “productive meeting” was held with the union on Tuesday, with an offer made to recruit an extra 2.6 full time staff “immediately and an ongoing review of workloads”.

She added the new database was “already delivering a range of benefits including faster time frames, 100 per cent traceability of all case data, and improved experiences for bereaved families”.

They noted the new database had replaced “numerous outdated systems requiring heavy reliance on paper and manual processes in the management of coronial cases”.