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Lifeguard pay set to increase and work permits fast-tracked

Lifeguard pay could be increased and work permits fast-tracked in an effort to hire more people to safeguard beaches (File photograph)

Lifeguard pay could be increased and work permits fast-tracked in an attempt to increase the number of people watching over the island’s beaches.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Minister of Public Works, told the House of Assembly yesterday that only three full-time lifeguards were employed to patrol shorelines and another five worked part-time.

It was hoped that five more part-time lifeguards will be hired next month, and Colonel Burch said the Government planned to boost beach safety with better warning signs.

The Government said it was reviewing its lifeguard policy after the death of Hyon Duk Shin in March and acknowledged that manpower levels needed to be increased and extended.

Mr Shin, 49, from Berwyn, Pennsylvania, swam towards a young child who struggled in high waves on Horseshoe Bay but got into difficulties himself. He died in the water before emergency services arrived.

His death prompted calls to extend the lifeguard season, which runs from May 1 to October 31, as more cruise ships arrived earlier.

Colonel Burch said yesterday: “Might I take a moment to pause in honour of Hyon Duk Shin who paid the ultimate sacrifice, while helping to successfully rescue a young person.

“His actions should be considered heroic.

“While there are no words to ease his family’s immeasurable loss, his actions demonstrate the willingness of one human being helping another in times of crisis.”

Colonel Burch said that in the last Budget, the Government recognised the need for more lifeguards because of the expansion of the cruise ship season and that extra funding was put aside.

However, the minister added: “While it is acknowledged that the lifeguard service is experiencing shortages, the issues are fundamentally deeper than just financial figures ― it is about attracting personnel.”

He said in 2009 and 2010 the lifeguard service had 37 and 36 trained lifeguards, respectively.

In 2022, the Department of Parks received 28 applications, ten of which were withdrawn, leaving 18 trained lifeguards.

Last year, the department again received 28 applications of which 21 were approved as trained lifeguards.

So far in 2024, 28 applications have been received, with eight people approved.

Colonel Burch said: “Some may ponder as to why there is a stagnation in application numbers, well there are a plethora of reasons similar to any other public officer post — including the length of time of the hiring process, the length of time for work permit approvals and, of course, compensation levels.”

Starting lifeguards take home 18 per cent [$197.26] less weekly than the lowest-paid worker in the Department of Parks.

Senior lifeguards take home 15 per cent [$193.20] less weekly than the lowest-paid foreman at the department.

Colonel Burch, who said other jurisdictions experienced the same problem, added: “What is the Government doing now to alleviate the current situation?

“The Department of Parks is advertising again in hopes of bringing to attention open positions for those potential lifeguards that may have missed the opportunity initially.

“In the interim, the department has begun the process to increase the number of water safety signage at our national parks including drafting designs for updated water signage that is intended to be more eye-catching.

“At the ministry level, efforts are being undertaken to raise the wages for lifeguards. While this may be unpopular to increase the cost to the Government, this needs to be done to ensure we are attracting talent.”

In addition, the minister said he would consider fast-tracking work permits, and added: “The Department of Parks lifeguard service annually applies for short-term work permits.

“Decreasing time barriers and/or Department of Immigration requirements for receiving approved short-term work permits may lead to faster recruitment and ultimately getting lifeguards on the beaches faster.”

Colonel Burch told MPs: “The ministry and the Department of Parks is committed to strengthening and expanding the lifeguard service to better mirror the cruise ship season.

“This will ensure that sufficient lifeguard coverage is provided for the most used beaches this summer and beyond and that the health and safety of patrons is a priority.”

• To view the minister’s full statement, see Related Media

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Published May 18, 2024 at 7:57 am (Updated May 18, 2024 at 7:58 am)

Lifeguard pay set to increase and work permits fast-tracked

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