The National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) is demanding the immediate reinstatement of 28 retrenched lifeguards to avoid any more loss of lives on the island’s beaches, insisting that their roles are just as important as police and emergency services.
Senior industrial relations officer at NUPW, Wayne Walrond, told Barbados TODAY that no lifeguard should have been sent home as part of Government’s mass retrenchment exercise in light of the critical role they play in protecting the lives of beachgoers.
And he has insisted that lifeguards should not only be given back their jobs, but transferred from the National Conservation Commission (NCC) to another area of the Government service.
Walrond’s call came in the wake of the drowning of 18-year-old Shaquille Oneal Denny on September 12. He was diving off a cliff at the beach at Crane, St Philip when he got into difficulties.
“We are asking NCC, as a matter of urgency, to rethink its decision and to have the lifeguards back on the job. This cannot be counted in dollars and cents if a tourist losses his or her life, or a local, because of the absence of a lifeguard. We are not saying that these incidents can’t happen and you have to make sure that you mitigate against persons losing their lives . . . by having an adequate number of lifeguards,” he said.
“I don’t think NCC attaches the significance to lifeguards as if it was under some critical area like the emergency services and fire services. The Government has not reduced critical services like the prison service, the police and emergency services. Those areas weren’t cut because of the importance of those areas. Had lifeguards been attached to one of those agencies, we believe they would have been treated with the seriousness they deserve.”
Currently, there are an estimated 59 active lifeguards stationed at various locations throughout the island.
Walrond argued that although the NCC management expressed confidence, prior to the layoffs, that there would be enough lifeguards to have four stationed at each tower they did not take some factors into consideration, including lifeguards who were medically unfit to conduct their duties or those who have been reassigned, given days off, or were required to go on leave.
“Prior to the cuts there were already short and that is why they trained some [lifeguards] last year [and had them] on standby to be recruited to add to the count to come up to international standards. We need 106 lifeguards if we are going to comply with international standards,” the NUPW representative explained.
“Because of the shortage, you are also endangering the lives of your lifeguards. If you have one lifeguard on duty and he has to go to a rescue and he gets into difficulty, he has to come back; he has to save himself first.”
Walrond contended that the NCC has a duty of care to ensure the safety and wellbeing of its staff and should therefore take appropriate action, according to the required standards.
“I don’t want to face any story where you get the news that a lifeguard has lost his or her life in a rescue attempt because they alone worked. You need a team approach to lifeguard coverage,” he insisted.
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