Striking lifeguards must get back to work

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 4:35am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 9:59am

Nothing is more refreshing than taking a dip in the middle of a sweltering summer day. With temperatures soaring to record highs over the past two months, it is little surprise that the public would want to head to the city's beaches and swimming pools. Unfortunately, swimmers could not enjoy the inviting facilities as freely as they should, after hundreds of lifeguards went on strike again yesterday amid long-running manpower and pay disputes.

The discord dates back to 10 years ago, when the lifeguard corps was slashed by one-third to 1,600. Since then, industrial action has become almost an annual ritual. What sets this latest one apart is a so-called increased workload stemming from an alleged influx of mainland swimmers. This follows news reports claiming our pools have become overcrowded because of an increase in the number of visitors from across the border.

There is no doubt that our swimming pools, hiking trails and other quality recreational facilities attract as many locals as foreign and mainland tourists. But the lifeguard union's suggestion that mainland swimmers have poor hygiene and low safety awareness is a lame excuse and could even be construed as discrimination. Advancing one's cause by capitalising on the cross-border tension is hardly a sound strategy.

That lifeguards have again walked away from their duties during the peak swimming season is regrettable. The curtain raiser came in April, with some lifeguards at the HK$800 million Victoria Swimming Pool calling in sick. Yesterday's strike forced some pools to close or shut down partially. Some beaches remained open without lifeguards on duty.

Strikes in Hong Kong do not always win public support. Patience and sympathy thin out further when public service is undermined. The public is understandably fed up with repeated disruption of service that leads nowhere. Staffing and pay disputes are best settled at the negotiating table. Under no circumstances should public safety be compromised.