Changes to funeral services enrage ‘coalition’
PROTESTERS last night slammed council chiefs over controversial changes to funeral services which could lead to grief-stricken families having to wait longer to bury their loved ones.
Worried funeral directors have teamed up with members of the clergy to urge Renfrewshire Council to reconsider plans which would see funerals being banned from taking place on Fridays after 11am and the number of standby gravediggers being cut from four to two.
There are fears this will lead to unacceptable delays for funerals, as well as undertakers and even bereaved relatives having to lower coffins into graves themselves.
The Paisley Daily Express understands that council chiefs had hoped to introduce the changes at the start of this month but put their plans on hold after being challenged by funeral directors, as well as Monsignor John Tormey, of the Diocese of Paisley, the Reverend Lorna Hood and the Reverend Christine Murdoch, of Paisley Presbytery.
A spokesman for the protesters told the Express: “We feel that the voice of the clergy, funeral directors and, most importantly of all, the bereaved has been overlooked in this decision-making process.
“The drop from four graveside workers to two could have massive implications with regards to health and safety.
“We had a meeting at the beginning of February and asked Renfrewshire Council to provide suitable risk assessments for each of the cemeteries under their control – and we are still waiting for their response.
“We believe these proposals will make it the responsibility of the funeral director and families of the dead to ensure that the deceased person is conveyed from the hearse and lowered into the grave.
“This amounts to a complete shift in working practices and raises safety issues, such as dealing with underfoot conditions, as well as not being able to look after the grieving family properly.
“Funeral directors are dressed for a specific job but, if these plans go ahead, it will be mucky members of staff who are accompanying families back from burials.”
Protesters have warned that under the council’s proposals, families who phone a funeral director on a Tuesday morning to make arrangements for a deceased loved one aren’t likely to be accommodated until the following week.
The spokesman added: “We think that what the council is proposing is unworkable and insensitive to the needs of a bereaved family.
“Why prolong what is already a difficult time for them any longer than you have to? It is the collective opinion of our group that this will add to their stress.”
In addition, it is claimed that banning Friday funerals from taking place after 11am could increase costs and be discriminatory against Catholics.
The spokesman said: “It could be that more families will have to look at holding a funeral on a Saturday, which can cost up to 200 per cent more.
“With this proposed rule change, there is also an indirect discrimination against Catholics.
“The vast majority of Roman Catholics in Renfrewshire celebrate Holy Mass at 10am, at which the community meets for a funeral. This policy would ensure that virtually no Catholic burials would be carried out on a Friday.
“This is completely unacceptable and is in contravention of the council’s own Faith and Race Equality Policy.
“We would urge Renfrewshire Council to reconsider all of their proposals.”
However, last night, council chiefs defended their position.
Councillor Jim Harte, convener of Renfrewshire’s Environment and Infrastructure Policy Board, said: “We are making arrangements to meet with funeral company and church representatives and I can assure everyone that the points raised will be fully resolved.
“There is certainly no inequality or discrimination in the scheduling of burials.
“The council has always tried to accommodate the wishes of bereaved families.
“The fact is that burials can be accommodated on any day, with no time restrictions.
“Nor is there any health and safety risk in the procedures for burials in cemeteries in Renfrewshire.
“We have considered staffing levels at burials in Renfrewshire which are in line with many other councils – two employees assisting funeral company staff at the graveside.
“This is being discussed with funeral directors and specific concerns can be addressed.”