Lifeguard strike closes beaches, pools

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 4:50am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 06 August, 2014, 5:00am

The red flag was hoisted to stop swimming at two beaches, and five swimming pools were affected as 300 lifeguards went on strike yesterday over a manpower shortage and an increased workload amid an influx of visitors from the mainland.

The strikers said big cuts in lifeguard numbers had left guards working long hours and increased the risk of accidents.

Lifesaving services were suspended at Butterfly Beach in Tuen Mun and Anglers' Beach in Tsuen Wan. The red flag, indicating swimming was unsafe, was raised at both. Most of the 41 beaches managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department were open as normal.

Swimming pools at Sham Shui Po Park and Shing Mun Valley in Tsuen Wan were closed completely for several hours. Some facilities, such as toddlers' pools, were closed at Morrison Hill in Wan Chai, Hammer Hill Road in Wong Tai Sin and Tuen Mun North West pool.

About 400 lifeguards, including off-duty staff and strikers, joined a sit-in at department headquarters in Sha Tin to demand pay rises to attract recruits.

Alex Kwok Siu-kit, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards' Union, said some pool lifeguards worked shifts longer than 10 hours.

"We used to have one lifeguard per 100 swimmers and now this has been jacked up to one for every 200; this has maximised the chances of incidents happening," he added.

At Hammer Hill Road, leisure and toddlers' pools were closed, but the main pool was open. Swimmers said they were concerned at the safety implications of a shortage of lifeguards.

"I support the strike because one needs to fight for one's interests," a 60-year-old woman said. "In general, more swimmers cause more pressure."

The union says staff numbers were cut from 2,400 to less than 1,600 in 2004. Numbers are now back to 1,900: not enough, the union says. It wants starting salaries of HK$17,000 per month, up from HK$13,000, to attract staff.

The department said it would talk to the union over pay and review the manpower situation.