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LCSD responds to lifeguards' strike
     Regarding the strike by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Life Guards' Union (HKKLGU) today (July 17), a spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) gave the following response:
     The LCSD thanked those lifeguard colleagues who manned their posts, honorary lifeguards and Auxiliary Medical Service members as well as all other staff of the department for demonstrating utmost professionalism by remaining steadfast in performing duties today to provide essential lifesaving services to the public. It appealed to lifeguards on strike to return to their duties as soon as possible to continue their services.
     The department expressed regret over the strike by some lifeguards, which resulted in the partial closure of a few swimming pools and beaches due to insufficient lifeguards being on duty. The LCSD apologised for any inconvenience caused.
     The spokesman reiterated that the safety of swimmers has always been the department's prime consideration in the provision of lifeguards. The department will take into account the actual operational needs when reviewing the lifeguard manpower arrangements for public swimming pools and beaches in case of changes in the provision and utilisation of the facilities. The LCSD is always willing to continue to review the manpower needs and has all along been striving to improve resources in increasing the lifeguard manpower in accordance with actual needs. Yet, the department has to handle the increase in permanent establishment and number of seasonal lifeguards (SLGs) with prudence and sufficient supporting reasons since additional public spending will be involved.
     As a matter of fact, 21 and 16 civil service lifeguard posts were created in 2015/16 and 2016/17 respectively. More than 180 seasonal lifeguard (SLG) quotas were added in the past five years, incurring an additional annual expenditure of $16 million. The department will continue to increase the quotas of SLGs to strengthen lifeguard manpower at beaches and swimming pools at different times in 2016/17.
     On extending the service of existing civil servants, the LCSD has been employing eligible civil service lifeguards who have retired or will soon retire for the positions of SLGs under the Post-Retirement Service Contract Scheme, so as to strengthen the manpower of SLGs. The department will also study the feasibility of extending the duration of SLG contracts.
     The LCSD does not agree with HKKLGU’s repeated requests to exclude all other staff unions from the Working Group on Lifeguard Manpower Review set up by the department. The spokesman stressed that the Working Group serves as an effective platform to widely gauge comments on the issue of lifeguard manpower from all stakeholders, and hence it is necessary to include the representatives from all relevant grades, ranks and unions as group members.
     The HKKLGU has also requested the department to allow all lifeguards more opportunities to perform overtime (OT) work as well as compensating these OT with allowance. The department has clearly explained to the union that according to the existing regulations, OT work should only be performed under unavoidable circumstances and should not be excessive or frequent as far as possible. All OT work should also be compensated by leave normally. In addition, staff should have sufficient rest for the effective delivery of duties for the sake of occupational safety and health. The department therefore could not accept the union’s suggestions.
     On the proposal to delink lifeguards from the artisan grade, the LCSD and the Civil Service Bureau have explained to staff unions before that under the existing policy, a grade structure review will only be considered if there are proven and persistent recruitment and retention difficulties; or if there are fundamental changes in job nature, job complexity and level of responsibilities of the grade concerned. As civil service lifeguards do not meet the above criteria at present, there is no ground for conducting a grade structure review.
     Over the arrangements for the display of slogans or other materials by unions in LCSD venues, any staff unions must seek the department’s prior approval in accordance with the existing requirements. The regulations and procedures concerned have been circulated and explained to all staff unions from time to time, and such administrative arrangements have been effective and have struck a good balance between the right of unions and the operation of venues. Past records showed that approval has been given for applications by unions to display slogans in line with established rules and procedures.
     The LCSD will maintain a close dialogue with staff unions and listen to their views. It will do its utmost to implement all measures to strengthen the manpower of lifeguards. It again appealed to lifeguard colleagues to remain steadfast in their posts, serve the public professionally and work out a solution together in a rational and pragmatic manner to seek consensus for the sake of public interest.
Ends/Sunday, July 17, 2016
Issued at HKT 17:00
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