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Thursday, June 23, 2016, 19:58

Short-staffed lifeguards likely to strike on Sunday

By Li Xiange

Short-staffed lifeguards likely to strike on Sunday
A lifeguard looks onto a beach in Hong Kong on Aug 5, 2014. A  (AFP PHOTO / Alex OGLE)

HONG KONG – Swimmers and beach lovers in the city might have to be cautious this Sunday as the city’s largest lifeguard union mulls a strike after being unable to recruit enough extra hands to safeguard people’s lives at public beaches and swimming pools.

The Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards’ Union, with about 1,000 members, is threatening to mobilize a strike this Sunday after the failure to reach a consensus over a manpower shortage with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD), who manages public beaches territory-wide.

The union’s spokesman Alex Kwok Siu-kit, after meeting with the LCSD on Thursday, expected that several hundred lifeguards would participate in the strike.

For the swimming season – April to October – normally about 900 to 1,000 seasonal lifeguards are needed to fully equip local public beaches and swimming pools, according to Kwok. However, this year they are 200 short of that, he said.

Clear Water Bay Second Beach, for example, has only 26 lifeguards – eight fewer than it should have, Kwok said.

Kwok said the manpower shortage increases the workload of the frontline lifeguards. “Some lifeguards have to work overtime frequently,” Kwok added.

The lack of manpower also poses potential threats to the public’s safety, Kwok said.

Kwok hoped Hong Kong citizens could understand the strike and not swim in the swimming pools and at beaches this Sunday.

In response to the union’s strike threat, Assistant Director of the LCSD Doris Fok Lee Sheung-ling urged the lifeguards to consider the public interest and act in a rational manner.

The department said it will continue to keep in close contact with the union.

The department said it has, over the years, taken several measures to improve the situation, including creating a total of 37 civil service lifeguard posts for the past two years and another 180 seasonal lifeguard posts for the past five years. More seasonal lifeguard recruits are expected to be rolled out during July and August this year. What’s more, an additional 10 percent in salary will be offered to seasonal lifeguards who work for more than two months.

The department will also call for more qualified retired or to-be-retired lifeguards to work as seasonal lifeguards, Fok said.

Earlier this month more than 40 lifeguards went on strike to protest manpower shortage, leading to a suspension of the lifesaving services at three beaches in Hong Kong.

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