Lifeguards' strike a washout as rain keeps swimmers away

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 August, 2005, 12:00am

The lifeguards' second strike this month was largely a washout yesterday, with most members showing up for work even as pouring rain kept swimmers away from pools and beaches.

But the union still claimed it as a success, saying the objective was to get the public to listen to its demands.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said last night that 1,364 lifeguards - 87 per cent of the total - were on the job. Only one pool had to be closed and one beach was without lifeguards for the afternoon.

This was in marked contrast to the first strike on August 1, in which more than 500 lifeguards took part, causing 10 beaches and two pools to be closed.

The union is protesting against the government outsourcing their services, saying public safety would be put at risk.

Yesterday, 19 of the department's 36 pools were fully operational in the afternoon, with 10 only partially open and six closed for routine cleaning.

Only the Jockey Club Yan Oi Tong Pool had to be closed and Cafeteria Old Beach was without lifeguard services in the afternoon because of the strike. Both facilities are in Tuen Mun.

Although the impact of the strike was limited, most swimmers still voiced resentment as they waited for the pools to reopen at 2pm - an hour later than usual as the government had to evaluate whether there were enough lifeguards.

Ivy Yu, a mother who brought her 10-year-old son Enoch Cheng Yee-lok to the Kowloon Park pool for a private lesson, said she had trouble finding out whether pools were open. 'I called [the government's hotline] 1823 and [Tai Wan Shan Pool in Hunghom and Kowloon Park Pool], but they couldn't tell me if the pools would be open until just before 2pm,' she said. Meanwhile the union staged a five-hour sit-in at the entrance of the department's headquarters in Sha Tin from noon. It ended at 5pm with the protesters bowing and apologising to the public.

Mr Fong, a lifeguard at the protest, said he was upset at the lack of public support.

Union vice-chairman Alex Kwok Siu-kit admitted there was a small turnout, but he was still satisfied with the strike. 'As long as we can make the public listen to us, it's fine,' he said.

He also said some lifeguards might fear being punished by their superiors if they protested.

He revealed that all lifeguards had received two letters from the department before the strike, reminding them of the penalty for abusing the sick-leave system and urging them to stay on duty.