The Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards Union staged a strike at Tuen Mun’s Butterfly Beach on Wednesday, calling on the Leisure and Cultural Services Department to increase staffing.
Over 40 lifeguards joined the protest, saying their action was motivated by concern for swimmers’ safety at Hong Kong’s pools and beaches. Up to 900 lifeguards are needed during the summer season, but the number of working lifeguards is still 200 short of that quota.
The union raised banners that read “No prospect for lifeguarding, no new blood for recruitment,” saying that they chose to strike during Dragon Boat Festival to pressure on the government to address the issue. Lifeguards who were scheduled to work at Butterfly Beach refused to clock in, but said they would respond to swimmers in danger. They were joined by dozens of their off-duty co-workers.
The lifeguards union is due to enter negotiations with the Leisure and Cultural Services Department on June 23. The union said that if the department does not provide a concrete response, they may possibly stage a “full-scale strike” by the end of the month.
The union’s spokesperson, Kwok Siu-kit, said that Hong Kong needs approximately 800 to 900 lifeguards on seasonal contracts in 2016, but the government has been unable to recruit that many.
The union said that understaffing has been a problem since 2004, causing many to work overtime under stress. The union demanded that their retirement age be increased to 65 in order to alleviate the workforce shortage.
“It takes a year to prepare for the test to become a lifeguard,” said Kwok. “People with real capabilities would rather apply for disciplined services,” he added. Kwok said that the application rate for short-term lifeguard positions is low due to high requirements for the position.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said an additional 180 lifeguards have been added in the past five years, but that some swimming pools and beaches could be affected by “lack of recruitment of seasonal lifeguards.”