Urgent talks to end lifeguard standoff disappoint union

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 July, 2004, 12:00am

Members claim officials were insincere, and have not ruled out striking again

An urgent meeting between lifeguard union leaders and government officials yesterday failed to resolve disputes over pay and staff cuts.

The union has not ruled out striking again, following its one-day strike on Sunday, but is awaiting further consultation with union members on Friday.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards' Union, said members had been disappointed by yesterday's talks with senior officials from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department.

'The officials were not sincere and refused to make concessions,' he said.

The officials refused to reverse the pay cut, from $11,115 to $8,300 a month, imposed last year, he said. They had asked the union to present its own staffing proposal, which Mr Kwok dismissed as a delaying tactic.

'How could we come up with a staffing proposal for individual pools and beaches, as we all have to work?' Mr Kwok said.

The acting director of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, Alan Siu Yu-bun, said the lifeguards should be able to produce a proposal as they were professionals.

'The union failed in the meeting to present substantive evidence to support its claims to restore the original manpower,' he said. About 400 lifeguards were laid off last year.

He said the department would be pleased to arrange an overseas visit for the union if it still had doubts over whether the staff cuts were in line with international practice.

Mr Siu said the government would not consider restoring the lifeguards' pay, saying it would violate the 'spirit of [the] contract'. But he promised to review wage levels in the next two months. Asked if the department would punish lifeguards who joined Sunday's strike, Mr Siu said that was not a priority.

But Mr Kwok said he had been told some union members had been treated unfairly by their supervisors after the strike.

Meanwhile, the department rejected accusations that it was hiding the number of rescues lifeguards performed at public swimming pools.

The union said the department had only published figures of cases where victims went to hospital, which was significantly less than the total number.

For instance, there had been 28 rescue operations at the Sai Kung swimming pool last year but the department's public record showed there were none.

A department officer said all cases were kept on record but non-hospital cases were only used for internal management.