The Tel Aviv municipality intends to operate only one lifeguard station most of the winter, a move that could endanger bathers at all other city beaches, lifeguards and a city council member warn. With bathing being such a popular year-round pastime in Tel Aviv, people commonly enter the water despite the absence of lifeguards.
"The sea is very dangerous and people aren't aware of the risks," a lifeguard told Haaretz.
The city published notices in local newspapers over the past week saying that from October 16 to April 10 lifeguards, inspectors and first aid services will only be provided on Bograshov beach, between 7:15 A.M. and 1:45 P.M. The gender-separated "religious" beach will be open only until December 31, the city said.
Last year during the winter the city operated five beaches - Tzuk, Gordon, Jerusalem, Aviv and the "separated" beaches.
The city employs 53 lifeguards, 37 of them tenured and 16 temporary ones. Every year the city fires the temporary lifeguards at the end of the bathing season and offers to reemploy them the following summer. The tenured lifeguards work during the winter as well.
For the past three months several beaches have closed down due to a labor dispute between the municipality and 14 lifeguards hired after 1999.
Until this year the lifeguards worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day during the bathing season. In April, lifeguards who were hired after 1999 said they would continue working more hours than required in their work agreement, but demanded to be paid accordingly.
The city refused to discuss the work agreement before 2014 and in the meantime reduced the lifeguards' work hours. Due to the fewer hours, the city closed the Tzuk South beach permanently, closed the Hilton beach on Fridays and the "religious" beach on Saturdays. The city also reduced the lifeguards' hours on Aviv, Bograshov, Gordon, Hilton, Metzitzim and Tel Baruch beaches, opening them at 9:45 A.M. instead of 7:15 A.M.
Two weeks ago the municipality closed down Tzuk South, Hilton and Bograshov beaches indefinitely.
Following the announcement that only one beach will operate in winter, the lifeguards hired after 1999 suspect the city will transfer them to other municipal departments as a means of pressuring them to renounce their demands.
The lifeguards say more beaches could operate in the winter if they were allowed to work. "We want to work as lifeguards in the winter. We're professional lifeguards. The beach is our natural place. Why should we want to work in other municipal jobs?" the lifeguard asks.
City council member Rachel Gilad-Volner, of the opposition faction City for All of Us, accuses the municipality of failing its duty. "The municipality is abandoning the residents and tourists in the winter. People swim in the sea throughout the year, not only in summer. The municipality is turning people into offenders by not providing lifeguard services [and forbidding bathing in the absence of lifeguards], while not acting to solve the dispute with the lifeguards and enlist new ones," she says.
A municipal spokesman told Haaretz: "There is no dispute with the lifeguards. ... Both sides are acting according to the law and the collective agreement that is valid until 2014."
The spokesman said the city tried to recruit more lifeguards, but failed and was consequently forced to close several beaches due to the absence of lifeguards. The city decided which beaches to keep open according to the weather and number of bathers, he said.
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