A strike over wages by gravediggers and other staff at Meadowrest Memorial Gardens in St Catherine yesterday resulted in closure of the cemetery, leaving Jamaicans who had gone there to bury relatives angry and frustrated.
Police worked overtime to maintain order outside the cemetery as mourners became rowdy, especially after learning that the Meadowrest workers were asking for an increase of a mere $500.
At the end of the day, just over five bodies of the close to 20 that were scheduled to be buried, got through the gates. The others had to be returned to funeral homes.
One man lamented that he was uncertain when his friend, who had been shot dead by gunmen recently in Portmore, St Catherine, would be laid to rest.
“Wi bring di general fi bury and dem seh we cyaan do dat. We deh yah over an hour now. We cyaan get fi go in, and police a bully wi, and a call wi all type a names too,” he alleged.
“We cyaan bury di general because di police dem seh wi cannot go up there because di man dem strike. Wi inna di sun how long now, and the body can decay. Mi general a good youth, and wi woulda like him fi bury like right now. He was no wrongdoer and mi rate him. We call him Boogy Ras and he is from Gregory Park, Christian Pen,” said the man, who gave his name only as Mr Valentine.
One woman told the Jamaica Observer that the inconvenience caused by the shut-out left her unsettled.
“Mi nuh understand it. Yuh plan the day and pay your money and everything, and now this. I understand the funeral homes have nothing to do with it, but Meadowrest should put something in place because the people dem pay dem money fi bury dem family member. It's not just this morning alone, the people dem tell dem seh dem a go strike long time and dem wait until this morning now when the people dem strike fi a scamper. We not even know when again you can plan your family member burial. People have to guh work and people coming from far,” she said.
She said the person whose burial she was attending came from St Elizabeth and her elderly father had travelled from the parish for the burial.
Another woman, Polly-Ann Osbourne, was angry that her cousin, Patrick Morais, would not be buried yesterday morning.
However, in the evening, Osbourne called the Observer to say that, due to a special arrangement, Morais was among the very few to be laid to rest.
“We are feeling happy. It was basically the funeral home boss at Sunset Funeral Home who had a connection with Meadowrest, so they gave him the go-ahead to go and bury him. About four to six workers from Meadowrest helped us,” she told the Observer.
Before that arrangement, however, her aunt, Jacqueline Richards, who is the dead man's mother, was not pleased.
“If I say anything I am going to be disrespectful, because I don't have any nice words in my mouth. My son was killed by unknown assailants and I said, 'Let me send him home early,' and this is what I get?” Richards said.
Meanwhile, a representative of McKenzie's Funeral Home told the Observer that he was given the nod to conduct a burial because the vault for the deceased in his care was already built and the procedure needed very little help from Meadowrest staff.
However, Peter Perry, the boss of Perry's Funeral Home, explained that he would not be charging the families for extra storage for bodies that had to be returned to his morgue.
“Mi nah charge dem nuh extra storage and no extra transportation or nothing. It is not their fault, and it's not my fault, but I am going to absorb the cost. We had funerals for about five people. We got through with some. Just two bodies never get fi go down. It really is inconvenient for these bodies to be scheduled to be buried and that has to be cancelled. Today's pressure added to tomorrow's pressure is extra pressure, and that is basically it,” he said.
A worker at Meadowrest complained that they were due a salary increase over two years ago and, considering the health hazards of the job, they believe they are more than deserving, especially because what they are asking for is very small.
The workers also said they were vexed that they are yet to receive the compensation promised by the Government following the ban on funerals and burials in March. They said names had been taken but there was no follow-through.
“Dem seh dem waan gi wi $120 raise and we a seh gi we $300 because a three year now dem no gi wi no raise. A nuff work we do, enuh, fi $2,500 a day, and the thing fly pass deh so long time. Site man a get $3,000 a day and we a get $2,500. We have to defend our own, because if we don't we can't do nothing. Member seh we have bills. We have [National] Housing Trust and NIS [National Insurance Scheme] and everything fi pay and we nuh have no money. Is like a lef' dem le'f wi fi dead,” he said.
“If dem fi gi we $300, dem waan gi we $200 and seh we will get the rest next year. Di man dem tell dem seh dem fi gi dem $500 raise from $2,500 to $3,000 a day. Dem a seh dem nuh have dat. Dem a seh dem haffi give us some now and the balance later. The later would be the first of January 2022. Dem cyaan pay we now, so how dem a go do dat later?”