Career lifeguards yesterday voiced their concern for public safety after the government began recruiting 240 temporary workers to replace those planning industrial action this weekend.
There are 800 full-time lifeguards, and half of them plan to strike for one day to protest against a shortage of manpower. They chose Sunday as it has been declared a Sport for All Day, when entry to swimming pools is free.
Members of the Hong Kong & Kowloon Life Guards Union protested outside a recruitment center in Kowloon Park yesterday. General secretary Alex Kwok Siu-kit said the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's hiring plan is "careless" and "rash."
Kwok said lifeguards need to be properly trained to man various items of equipment and hiring untrained substitutes will pose a danger to the public.
He hopes the public will understand the reasons for their strike action and urged the department to close some facilities to ensure safety. Kwok said that since 2004, the department trimmed manpower by 30 percent so that now there are only three lifeguards per swimming pool.
Prior to 2004, there were more than 2,300 lifeguards, which was later cut to about 1,580.
Though the department claimed it had increased the number to around 1,800 in recent years, the average number of lifeguards on duty at swimming pools and beaches remains at three.
"Many lifeguards are under great pressure when facing an increasing number of life-and-death incidents in swimming pools and beaches," Kwok said.
"We are upset as there should be more help but none is forthcoming."
The department has hired temporary lifeguards to be on duty from August 3 to 5 at HK$63 an hour - about 20 to 30 percent higher than what those working at swimming pools in private housing estates earn.
No experience is necessary.
One of those attending the interview, named Ng, said the first question he was asked was whether he would be able to report for duty on August 3 to 5.
Another, named Cheng, said he was rejected because he told them he would only be free in September.
On last year's Sport For All Day, a total of 109,000 people flocked to swimming pools.