Public services compromised by manpower shortage, say unions
Legislators and scholars call for reassessment of manning ratios
Lawmakers and scholars have urged the government to recalculate the number of workers needed for maintaining the operation of public services, after the sudden closure of the Victoria Park Swimming Pool due to a shortage of lifeguards on a typical day.
The swimming pool closed in the morning of April 21 and was not reopened until the afternoon because the number of lifeguards on duty was not enough to cover the normal
operation of the pool.
Some lifeguards had staged a strike by calling in sick to protest against the Department's refusal to hire more lifeguards.
According to the current Swimming Pools Regulation, three lifeguards should be on duty for every 50 metres of a swimming pool.
But Mr Ricky Tsang Ling-fung, a lifesaving coach and staff member of Hong Kong Lifeguard and Lifesaver Professional Alliance, said it "only fulfils the most basic needs."
He said three lifeguards were not enough to cover all areas in a swimming pool centre. Where a swimmer suffers from cervical fractures or dislocations, more than two lifeguards are needed to move him.
"One case of injury has exhausted all the lifeguards, thus the rest of swimming pool is in potential danger."
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has hired 160 lifeguards over the past two years. The Department said it would adjust the manpower according to the usage rates and operational needs of different swimming pools in the city.
But Mr Tsang pointed out that lifeguards would be compelled to sit on the watchtower and keep observing for three or four hours without a break due to the insufficient numbers of rescuers.
"We are in urgent need of lifeguards, no matter experienced or not," he said. "Regular breaks and rotations are necessary for them to remain constantly vigilant," Mr Tsang said.
Under the current ordinance, a lifeguard can be employed only after he has obtained four certificates, which cost about $4,000, excluding fees of preliminary training. An extra certificate for beach duties costing $2,000 is needed for marine lifeguards. All certificates need to be renewed every three years.
Mr Tsang said the complex procedures to become a lifeguard and the unattractive salary would discourage people from entering the industry.
"Compared to the considerable upfront costs and training time ofmore than three months, the salary, $13,000 at most for a part-time worker, is not attractive enough," he explained.
The requirements were enacted in 2005 and have not been updated since then. The skills to operate the latest apparatus is not included in the Regulations while the salary is based on skill requirements of 10 years ago.
Legislative Councillor Mr Poon Siu-ping, who represents the labour constituency, urged the government to review the Regulations immediately. "Lifeguard, as a public service provider, is a respectful occupation about saving lives," he said. "The shortage shouldn't be neglected."
He also pointed out that the public service was not just short of lifeguards. Other public servants like customs officers and cleaner are also facing the same problem. In the last 10 years the population boomed but the number of public workers has remained unchanged.
Last year, about 100 frontline staff of the Buildings Department staged a strike to protest against the government's ignorance of the shortage of manpower of the Department. They said it would slow down the process of inspecting the old buildings in the city.
Dr Chan Sze-chi, a senior lecturer of Hong Kong Baptist University who specializes in Hong Kong's social policy, said the labour shortage in public servicing occupations could be regarded as an "inevitable result" of the conservative administrative policies of the government.
He said the government had been cautious about increasing public expenditure since the financial crisis in 2008.
"To make ends meet, the government cuts down all the ‘unnecessary' costs," Dr Chan explained. "They are too cautious in deal with the requests to boost manpower and won't do anything until they experience heavy losses."
Mr Poon also urged the government to alleviate the tight manpower of public service workers.
"It is government's job to ensure the public services," he said. "The concerned departments should sit down and have a talk."
Reported by Catherine Chen
Edited by Tiffany Lee
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