Tobago Lifeguards voice concerns over their covid19 safety


Lifeguards Cha Burris, left, and Kerry Duncan, centre, and water and safety educator Sheldon Johnson speak to the media about their concerns at Store Bay Beach Facility on Wednesday. – DAVID REID

Frustrated lifeguards on Wednesday called for an urgent meeting with the Division of Tourism, Culture and Transportation.

The lifeguards, speaking with the media at the Store Bay Beach Facility, revealed a number of grievances, including working conditions, outstanding wages, lack of equipment and PPE.

Spokesman Cha Burris said: “Lifeguards have been working public holidays and extra on the Sundays since before covid19. We are working public holidays and we are not receiving these monies – sometimes a whole three months after, sometimes a whole six months after. Right now, we are waiting in limbo because we’ve been working public holidays since last year August – we have worked at least ten-12 public holidays and we’ve not been paid.”

Saying they are frontline workers, he called for lifeguards to be briefed on covid19 and the effects on their line of work.

“People may say that we are not frontline workers, but we are frontline workers where tourism is concerned. On a daily basis people come to the beach and we are the ones who have to take care of them on the beach and make sure everyone is safe.

“But we have not been given proper equipment to work with and fight this covid19 for ourselves, our personal benefit and our personal safety. So we are asking the Department of Tourism: what about the lifeguards?”

He said hand sanitisers, gloves and face masks were provided, but still thinks they require guidelines and instructions.

In addition, lifeguards want a tower at the Buccoo Beach Facilities.

“Buccoo Beach Facilities has been open since December 2016 and to date, lifeguards in Buccoo are working underneath manchineel trees. The most we have there is couple chairs and couple umbrellas that we can’t even use any more. We don’t have a tower there, and it seems like no one wants to meet with the lifeguards in Buccoo to let us know what is taking place.”

He said there are towers at other beaches that need to be refurbished “and we have been working like this for a number of years where the towers are concerned.”

He said he had raised the issue previously with the division, including its secretary, who is also Chief Secretary, but the response “wasn’t welcoming.”

The lifeguards are represented by the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW).

But another lifeguard, Kerry Duncan, added, “That union like it not functioning – the tricky thing about that is that our supervisor is also our union head, so I can’t say which side she is on; is ether she on the management side or she’s on the union side, but I can’t say. We went to her. She knows all the issues that we’re having, and nothing has been dealt with. So far, everything is like, ‘You have to wait, you have to wait.’”

He said the department needs to do more to make lifeguards feel safe at work.

“I’m not a doctor. We have an instructor – he knows a little bit, but we need somebody who knows about covid19 to come to the lifeguards and have a conversation on how to go about dealing with the public. I am on the beach. During the Easter (holiday), thousands of people were around me – I had to be dancing through, because I have to protect myself. I have a family, so when I go home, what happens to me and my family?”

Contacted for comment, THA Chief Secretary and Secretary of Tourism, Culture and Transportation Ancil Dennis said he was aware of the issues outlined by the lifeguards and there are plans in place to have the issues addressed.

“The division has an administrator, who is the administrative head and accounting officer of the division. She is aware of those issues and a resolution is being pursued.”

He also promised to meet with the lifeguards virtually “soon.”

He added: “There is an abundance of policies and guidelines as to how we should all operate during this period.”

The Caribbean Public Health Agency held an oline training workshop on December 1, 2020 for Tobago’s tourism stakeholders.

The workshop focused on health guidelines for reopening the tourism sector for the safety of all staff and visitors.

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