The Hong Kong and Kowloon Life Guards’ Union will hold a city-wide strike on Sunday to protest the government’s failure to meet their demands over staffing levels. They will gather outside the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) for a sit-in that day.
The union’s spokesperson Alex Kwok Siu-kit said they expect a turnout of 400 to 500 lifeguards. It is likely that swimming pools in Kwai Shing, Lai Chi Kok and Sha Tin will remain closed, he said. Beaches at Tuen Mun, Sai Kung and Tsuen Wan are also expected to be affected.
Earlier last month, the union staged a strike at Tuen Mun’s Butterfly Beach during the Dragon Boat Festival to call on the government to increase staffing levels. Around 400 lifeguards took part, saying they were motivated by concerns for swimmers’ safety at Hong Kong’s pools and beaches. Previously, they held city-wide strikes in 2004, 2005 and 2014.
The union said that they met with the LCSD on July 7. They demanded an increase to 2,400 staff as well as a grade structure review to remove lifeguards from the “artisan” pay grade and create an independent grade for lifeguards. They also asked to have the retirement age increased to 65. However, no consensus was reached, prompting the strike.
“The reason [for the strike] is that in 2004 the LCSD heavily slashed staffing numbers from around 2,400 to 1,580, and the manpower arrangement is very unreasonable and unsafe. It also puts a lot of pressure on us,” Kwok said.
“We’ve been fighting for the past decade or so, and had the same demand for eight years. The fact is, for the past six or seven years, every year we have had insufficient manpower, but the LCSD just throws the ball back to the Civil Service Bureau.”
Kwok said that around 90 lifeguards were needed for the swimming pool at Kowloon Park, but currently they only have 48. He also said that – aside from public pools and beaches – there was also an issue of understaffing at private pools and many lifeguards had to work long hours.
Kwok further criticised the LCSD for requesting members of the union to remove protest signs put up at their workplaces, saying that it was an act of oppression, RTHK reported.
Kwok apologised to the public on behalf of the the union and lifeguards, and said he hoped that everyone understood that if there are insufficient numbers of lifeguards, Hongkongers’ lives would be put in danger every day.