Take the bereavement industry out of the hands of the profiteers

Harrison Cairns, Northampton Socialist Party

It’s said that the only assurances we have in life are death and taxes. And in a capitalist system, they can be as cruel and emotionless as each other.

As a Unite the Union and Socialist Party member working in the bereavement industry, I see every day the stark contradictions between providing necessary support and services to grieving families, and the extortionate prices these services are provided for.

Looking at an industry that is dominated by private companies, from small individual funeral directors to big umbrella companies like Dignity and Funeral Partners, the end goal is profit for bosses and shareholders, while the everyday workers are paid minimum wage or, more correctly labelled, poverty wages.

I know, for example, that the cost of the gas for an entire week is covered with only two cremations. Seeing as some weeks we did eleven to fifteen cremations a day, the sheer amount of profit this lone site makes must be ridiculous.

Since the pandemic began, this industry has gone mostly unnoticed, as key workers working all hours provide a service requiring compassion and care during a difficult time for families. Yet the treatment of a staff under this system is far from its front-facing facade.

With stressful targets demanded by bosses, funeral directors and staff work longer and longer hours, struggling to ensure that compassionate care and support is provided for the bereaved. It is unsurprising that people have been leaving the industry due to the mounting pressure and feeling unable to continue in such an environment.

In my own experience, I’ve worked to the small hours of the morning to ensure cremations are completed to the highest standard, only to be back in work by 7am for a new day, without even a thank you from management.

I’ve also seen colleagues bullied and belittled by management for not completing excessive workloads.

As a member of a union, I know I’m able and willing to fight. Yet this isn’t the case for many of those trying to provide a service. This industry definitely needs union support.

Profiteering by these big companies and shareholders off the misery of families is inhumane and void of compassion and decency. The chance to grieve shouldn’t be a privilege only for the wealthy; it’s a need and should be the right of everyone.

I would say this industry needs local authorities to take branches of funeral directors, crematoriums and cemeteries in-house, so that an affordable, cost-effective service can be made possible for many more people. I will be endeavouring to convince those I meet every day to fight for change, for better conditions and pay, and hopefully, in time, a whole new direction for this industry.