‘If they can’t work they can’t eat and feed their families’

GRAVEDIGGERS and builders at the Dovecot Memorial Park and Crematory and the MeadowRest Memorial Gardens in St Catherine are worried that their livelihoods will be hit hard as a result of Government’s order to ban funerals and burials for two weeks — March 8 to 22.

A senior representative at Meadowrest, who asked not to be named, told the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday that he is remaining hopeful that ongoing talks, between funeral directors and Government for a rethink of the decision, will bear fruit in the next few days because the lives of gravediggers and builders are at stake. It is, however, unlikely changes will be made as no agreement came out of meetings with the funeral directors.

“It [ban] will affect them [gravediggers] because they earn on a daily basis and they only get paid if they work. If they don’t work, they don’t have any pay to get,” the Meadowrest representative said, refusing to comment on the average monthly salary of a gravedigger.

The Meadowrest representative said his workers are continuing to dig graves before the regulations take effect, because many families are currently rushing to have their loved ones laid to rest in time.

“If what the prime minister dictated a few days ago remains, it will affect these gentlemen in a very serious way, as well as their families. We have to take their well-being into consideration because it is they who do the hardest part of the work to provide the necessary revenue for the company. If they can’t work they can’t eat and can’t feed their family. Likewise, it will affect the company because if the company cannot bury, the company cannot earn. If the company cannot earn, they [gravediggers and builders] can’t earn.”

“It doesn’t make sense if the prime minister changes his mind and everybody decides to dash out tomorrow morning and we have people standing by waiting for us to dig. It would put more pressure on the family. We are preparing. We have families that have bodies to be buried that would have fallen in the time the prime minister would have said burials should take place. We have until the 7th [of March] and these families are going to still come to have their loved ones buried, so we have to prepare for them same way. We have to do what we have to do,” he said, pointing to three young men who kept busy with their shovels while digging a grave.

Anxiously contemplating what the 14-day period without work will mean for his family was grave builder at Dovecot, Derrick Thomas. He and some of his colleagues have no back-up jobs to turn to in order to make up for any loss in earnings.

“If the park ago close fi a certain amount of time, it ago affect we. We nuh work nowhere else. A yah suh we grung is. When no dead naa bury fi 14 days, if we naa build no grave fi accept the amount of bodies weh ago come, we ago under pressure wid di work. We affi go move faster that time because we ago have more dead coming in when the place open back. It ago directly affect us though. If we naa do nuh work, the likkle savings weh we have must done. Mi nuh have nothing else fi do. This a mi trade work. A build mi build grave,” he said.

Another Dovecot employee, who requested anonymity, said that aside from the workers being impacted financially, there was a more serious problem at hand as storage for bodies will run out, as crime and COVID-19 grip the nation.

More than 200 people have been murdered in Jamaica since the start of 2021, while the COVID-19 death toll stood at 435 up to yesterday.

“The Government needs to reconsider the dead, not even so much the workers dem. Him [the prime minister] cyaa stop people from dead. People a dead every day. Weh di parlour dem ago do wid dem? How we ago store dem body deh? We have to start thinking about that. Mi naa think about myself. Every day we have how much people a dead and then through COVID, more people a dead. It is best the Government allow the funeral with 10 people and enforce the law.

“If you find more than 10 people come a di funeral you make the family pay a fine and the funeral organisers should pay a fine. You would have police at the cemetery gate. If the police look and see 20 people, you can’t come een, plus we ago charge you, instead of locking down the thing. The thing can be under control and everybody can follow the rules.”

At the same time, Marcia Bernard, manager at Dovecot, said the industry is desperately awaiting the Government’s reconsideration, as gravediggers and builders are among earners of minimum wage and will find it difficult to survive the period. She was adamant that Government should not have placed a ban on burials.

“When they cut off all funerals, they are also cutting off cremations. A lot of people are opting for cremation now and cremation doesn’t carry a mass of people. There is no crowd, it just carries the very immediate family which sometimes is just five people. I can understand him cutting off funerals, because a lot of the the hype undertakers are still pushing for hype funerals in this COVID time here. How it would affect gravediggers is how it will affect all the other people in the industry who depend on burying a body for their livelihood. They get no pay. What can we find for them to do? I am hoping the Government will rethink this drastic situation as it relates to burials and allow us to bury the persons, because it is really not fair to the workers in the industry,” Bernard added.

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