A section of the 600-odd lifeguards on Goa’s beaches went on a three-day strike Friday morning to press for their long-pending demands despite the Goa government having brought life guarding and water safety services on the beaches and the inland water bodies under the aegis of the Department of Tourism, as essential services, under The Goa Essential Services Maintenance Act, 1988.
The new temporary personnel being taken in a lifeguard jeep for postings at various spots on the beach. PIC/JOSEPH ZUZARTE
The strike is illegal as per that order, according to Drishti Life Saving, which provides lifeguard services on Goa’s beaches. Drishti approached the Goa bench of the Bombay High Court for relief. The HC ruled, “Since the Goa government has already notified the services as essential services, prohibiting any strike in the said services, it is expected that the state government shall take appropriate steps and shall act in accordance with law.”
“As per the order of the court today, the government will take action against striking lifeguards under the Goa Essential Services Maintenance Act,” said Drishti Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ankit Somani. “The union leaders refused to show up in court on Friday to defend their illegal strike. It is extremely sad to see that the lifeguards are being misled to commit a crime, while the union leaders keep their hands clean,” Somani said.
Drishti claimed only some of the 600-odd lifeguards joined the strike, while most turned up for duty. “On any given day, there are around 400 lifeguards on duty. Today there were around 357,” Mumbai-based Somani said, adding that some lifeguards who were protesting near the tourism department office in Panjim disbanded after the court order.
Earlier in the morning, Drishti pressed temporary personnel into service and also brought in lifeguards from Mumbai and other places to man the beaches.
Somani says the lifeguards are being misled by union leaders. “All of them are young and gullible; many of them have not even cleared Std X. When union leaders tell them that their salaries will be doubled if they strike, they believe them. The demands are opportunistic and unreasonable.”
After a strike last year, 17 lifeguards were dismissed from service. Following this, lifeguards went on strike for 15 days last December demanding that these 17 lifeguards be reinstated. Lifeguards were also promised that salaries of the strike period would be paid, but that has also not been done. Another major demand of the lifeguards is that they be absorbed into government service. The All India Trade Union Congress is supporting them.
“We work for 10 hours a day in the sun, risking our lives to save tourists and we get only Rs 10,500 per month, with Rs 18 per day as refreshment allowance. Even the security guards at Calangute Residency (a beachside resort) get Rs 12,000, plus meals,” Sunil Matondkar, a striking lifeguard said.
Tourism Minister Dilip Parulekar has ruled out making lifeguards direct employees of the state government. John Lobo, general secretary of the Shack Owners Welfare Society, said, “If the government wants to ensure the safety of tourists, they should look into the needs of lifeguards which I feel are genuine.”
As per Bhushan Tandel, there are 15 lifeguards, including him, from Mumbai. “We’ve been brought for three days, but could be longer due to the tourist rush,” said another Mumbai lifeguard, Bharat Dhamare.