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Friday, Jun 09, 2023

Lifeguard shortage leaves 18 beaches unprotected

Lifeguard shortage leaves 18 beaches unprotected

Lifeguard services will not be provided at 21 of 39 public beaches in Hong Kong on Sunday due to a manpower shortage.
The alarming news came yesterday from Wu Kai-wing, vice chairman of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards Union.

He went on to say the SAR would require at least 1,200 lifeguards on long-term employment and 800 seasonal lifeguards for all public beaches to remain open.

It was difficult to estimate the precise extent of the shortage, Wu added, "but we can judge the seriousness of the problem simply by looking at how many beaches are open.

"The formal swimming season is from April to October each year, and all beaches should have been open on April 1. But now less than half of them are open."

He said a complicated certification system and a lack of promotion opportunities have deterred younger people from joining the sector. And the fact lifeguards are also needed at pools on private housing estates exacerbated the problem in the public sector.

"The government provides a salary of more than HK$20,000 per month, but lifeguards see no prospects for promotion and think they will remain in the same position until retirement," Wu said. "So attractive pay is not enough to attract people."

Wu said the most urgent task for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which is responsible for managing public beaches, is to turn more seasonal lifeguards into long-service ones to cope with the shortage.

And importing non-local workers is not a solution for the problem, he added.

"If the LCSD still fails to provide opportunities for promotion then non-local lifeguards would also leave their post in a few years," he explained.

"It is not a matter of whether we can attract some workers but whether we can retain them."

It was also pointed out that lifeguards are classified as technicians by the LCSD. That is a source of frustration for Wu and many other past and present lifeguards.

"'Technician' is not a fair name for us because we carry the mission of saving lives," Wu said. "It's like calling police officers 'security guards.' When you are drowning you don't yell 'Please save me technician!'

"Some of my friends who have quit lifesaving have told me they were willing to re-join if we are more respected by the government."

Meanwhile, the Morse Park Swimming Pool in Wong Tai Sin was closed for three hours yesterday afternoon for cleaning and superchlorination after the discovery of feces in the pool.

Addressing the issue, swimmers were told by the LCSD not to swim after a meal and to use toilet facilities.
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