15 Feb 2021

Funeral directors make urgent request to be classified essential workers

5:47 pm on 15 February 2021

The Funeral Directors Association is asking the government to urgently grant the sector's workers essential health worker status.

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Funeral Directors Association president Gary Taylor says the distinction between an essential service and essential workers makes a lot of difference (file image). Photo: 123RF

An estimated 80 funerals have been postponed in Auckland today alone, as a result of the city's move to alert level 3.

Funeral directors are classed as an essential service, but not as essential health workers.

Funeral Directors Association president Gary Taylor said that in itself did not sound "terribly big" but made a lot of difference.

"Particularly when we come to movement of funeral directors across restricted borders, [and] when we come to the issue of PPE - Personal Protective Equipment," Taylor said.

"We are told there is an abundance of PPE available, for those people who are on the frontline.

"We are currently using our own PPE, and that has a cost to it, and at the moment the cost of that is being borne by funeral directors.

"We just feel that we are on that front line, dealing with families. We can't be sure of their movements, and it would be good for the ministry to view us in that same light, as they do those people that are dealing with families in the DHB or the health service."

He said he had written a letter to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield asking for him to consider the proposal. The conversation between both parties had been going on since the start of Covid-19, but it was taking a long time to be resolved, Taylor said.

Read more on the latest Covid-19 outbreak:

Meanwhile, funeral directors are also having to manage the situation brought about by the escalation of alert levels across the country.

In Auckland at alert level 3, funerals, tangihanga and burials are limited to a maximum of 10 people. That includes kaikaranga, kaikōrero, members of the clergy and staff who are attending.

Taylor said the announcement had an immediate impact on grieving families.

"Telling a family that they have to delay the meaningful farewell of their loved one less than 24 hours beforehand is one of the hardest things we have to do."

Funeral directors have been busy liaising with families who have funerals coming up over the next few days and months, to discuss arrangements.

Most are opting to postpone the funeral until later on this week, or early next week.

Taylor warned that would have an impact on directors' schedules next week, resulting in double bookings.

Across the rest of New Zealand, alert level 2 restrictions would still impact some funerals, especially in the more rural areas, he said.

Funerals were capped at 100 people for places in alert level 2, but Taylor said it was not uncommon for funerals in smaller towns and villages to exceed that amount.

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