The National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW) is dissatisfied with the treatment of lifeguards, whose requests for more resources to protect them from contracting covid19 they say continue to fall on deaf ears.
Lifeguards are now contemplating staying away from work until covid19 protocols are developed and other health and safety issues are addressed. They are specifically asking for an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), and protocols for giving CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
They are also becoming frustrated by what they describe as the poor conditions of lifeguard towers, beach facilities and lack of proper security on and around remote beaches.
At a press conference on Monday NUGFW president James Lambert said neglect by Minister of National Security Stuart Young will leave lifeguards with no choice but to abandon duties. He said the lifeguards are tired of empty promises and are demanding changes.
NUGFW represents approximately 150 lifeguards stationed at ten beaches across Trinidad. They include Las Cuevas, Maracas, Tyrico, Mayaro, Manzanilla, Toco and Salybia.
The press conference came over two weeks since the Prime Minister lifted restrictions on using beaches across the country. They can now open from 6 am to 6 pm. Social distancing and wearing masks at beaches are mandatory.
Lambert said NUGFW met with the Ministry of National Security on three occasions before the first lockdown, and to date, none of the issues had been resolved.
“When a life is lost on the beach they criticise lifeguards for failing or for not being able to save that life. And yet the lifeguards are here outlining the problems they have to enable them to do their work properly so that they could save lives.”
Lifeguards fell under the Local Government Ministry before being transferred to the Ministry of Tourism. Lambert said since they were transferred from Tourism to the Ministry of National Security, five years ago, the treatment of lifeguards went from bad to worse.
Augustus Sylvester, president of the lifeguard branch, said the ministry abandoned the lifeguards and hasn’t paid attention to providing the resources they need to operate efficiently.
"We are pondering our way forward, and based on the way we are being treated and for our own safety, we wonder if it makes sense having our presence on the beaches at this point in time.”
Lifeguards' towers are not being sanitised and can present a health hazard to them, he said.
“As a matter of fact, they are being used as toilets. Not only Queen Street is a toilet. The workers are sceptical to use it and people are more likely to lose their lives on the beaches because lifeguards don’t have the height advantage from using the towers.”
He called on the Ministry of Health to develop protocols for rescues.
“We are expected to do CPR, which is getting exposed directly to the virus, and we don’t have enough equipment to deal with that. And this has left lifeguards sceptical when dealing with patients."
He complained that there are also transport issues and this is becoming a serious matter for lifeguards' safety.
“Over 70 years the ministry has been providing transport to the workers to reach to and from work, because of the nature of this job, and because they are in rural areas and no taxi goes there. With a fleet of 30 vehicles, including two ambulances which have been working over the last three years, but somehow they aren’t working after the first shut down.”
He said a complaint was made but to date, lifeguards are now spending up to $200 per day to get to and from work using hired transport.
“In 2015 lifeguards were dumped in the Ministry of National Security and like a sore, it’s left to fester. Nothing has been done to develop the service. Lifeguards have been abandoned and it’s a shame.”
After many attempts to have these issues resolved through the Ministry of National Security, Sylvester said, they are now reaching out to the Prime Minister for a meeting to have these issues of safety, security and gratuities for retired lifeguards addressed.
Calls to Minister of National Security Stuart Young were unsuccessful.