The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has come under fire for failing to ensure enough lifeguards at public swimming pools, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports, citing an investigation by the Office of the Ombudsman.
The lack of on-duty lifeguards, mainly due to absences and tardiness, has forced public swimming pools to close 810 times last year, the investigation report revealed.
The Office of the Ombudsman said there is an upward trend of partial or full closure of LCSD-managed swimming facilities due to lifeguards failing to report for work.
The report cited the case of a lifeguard working for the LCSD who has taken a total of 537 sick leave days in five years.
The LCSD could have remedied the situation by hiring temporary lifeguards but failed to do so, the investigation revealed.
Over 20 percent of the lifeguards were found to have reported for work at least 15 minutes late, the report said.
Instead of addressing the problem, the LCSD usually offset the length of time the lifeguards were late by deducting it from the computation of their overtime work.
By resorting to such a practice, the department is implicitly tolerating tardiness among lifeguards, the report said.
The Office of the Ombudsman made 12 recommendations to the LCSD, including more stringent procedures to monitor sick leaves and improve roster arrangements.
It also urged the department to enhance communication with its lifeguards to avoid dampening staff morale, which could have an impact on swimming pool operations.
Reacting to the report, the LCSD said it agreed with the findings of the report and would carefully consider the recommendations, including assessing the feasibility of outsourcing lifeguard services and tightening control of leave days during peak seasons.
It also promised to use online channels to inform the public of pool closures.
Alex Kwok Siu-kit, a spokesman for the Hong Kong and Kowloon Lifeguards’ Union, said there is a growing shortage of lifeguards in Hong Kong in recent years.
Kwok admitted that the union sometimes call on members to call in sick on a given day as part of their protest to seek better pay and working conditions, Apple Daily reported.
But he stressed the problem resulting from lifeguards taking sick leave is far from serious.
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