Strike will close three pools, eight beaches
More could be affected depending on how many lifeguards fail to turn up for work
At least three public swimming pools and eight beaches are likely to be closed today and many more may have limited services as at least 700 lifeguards strike. Seven pools will also be closed for cleaning.
More than 30,000 students will be affected because 1,300 swimming courses may have to be suspended. The government may have to refund up to tens of thousands of dollars if it fails to arrange replacements for the missed lessons.
Wan Chai swimming pool, which is used mainly for athletes' training, will maintain normal services as professional training teams have their own lifeguards.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department warned there may be more closures because it is able to summon only 180 volunteer lifeguards and 160 auxiliary medical officers to fill in for strikers.
'When we don't have sufficient lifeguards for all the facilities, we will open only part of the swimming pools. We will make sure the parts opened are provided with sufficient qualified lifeguards,' said Alan Siu Yu-bun, deputy director of the department.
Red flags would be flying at beaches without enough lifeguards. The department would also put up notices and make regular announcements at beaches and partially open pools informing swimmers of latest developments.
But Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards' Union vice-chairman Alex Kwok Siu-kit warned that the public may be risking their lives by swimming. He also criticised the department for 'fooling the public' by keeping some pools partially open.
'It's not like any qualified lifeguard can replace us; you need experience,' Mr Kwok said. 'There are also other elements like co-ordination and standard procedures you need to know when an accident occurs. I plead with the public not to swim.'
The union will stage a round-the-bay swimming protest at the closed Repulse Bay beach amid a sit-in from 11am to 6pm today, to express their opposition to a government plan to outsource management.
Some lifeguards returning to duty today may have to work for 16 hours in view of the staff shortage.
'Only a small portion of the staff will be working overtime and they will not be performing rescuing duties but only supplementary works during their overtime, like keeping order,' Mr Siu said.
They would be given appropriate rest periods, he added.
Despite the government saying management outsourcing will not affect existing staff, Mr Kwok threatened that there would be more strikes this summer if the government did not dump the policy.
'A lot of our contract and part-time staff have been waiting for a long time to become permanent; outsourcing kills their hope.'
Pools: Lei Cheng Uk, Tuen Mun Yan Oi Tong, Fanling.
Others closed for cleaning: Victoria Park, Kowloon Tsai, Hammer Hill Road, Shing Mun Valley, Tai Po, Tsuen Kwan O, North Kwai Chung Jockey Club
Beaches: HK Island (Southern district) - Deep Water Bay, Repulse Bay, Middle Bay, Chung Hom Kok, St Stephen's Bay; Tuen Mun - Kadoorie, Cafeteria Old, Cafeteria New
Inquiries hotline: 1823
LCSD website www.lcsd.gov.hk (updates from 7am)