Bathers Fined for Swimming in Closed Beaches

As its labor dispute with lifeguards boils, the city of Tel Aviv closed certain beaches - and fined swimmers.

Tourists were taken aback and a handful of swimmers were fined over the weekend after swimming in waters that had been closed due to a labor dispute.

Five of Tel Aviv's 13 beaches were closed after the municipality and city lifeguards failed to come to an agreement over wages and lifeguards' hours were cut as a reult.

The lifeguards have been working part-time for the past three months; prompting the city to close public beaches in their absence. One of the Zuk beaches was closed down entirely, and the city has also been closing the Hilton beach down every Friday. This week, Hilton beach was also closed on Saturday.

In addition, the religious beach on Nordau, which is segregated by gender on weekdays but previously was open to all bathers on Saturday, is now closed on Shabbat and open to no one.

The lifeguard shortage also prompted the closure of the Gordon and Bograshov beaches this weekend.

City inspectors cordoned off the waters, announcing on loudspeakers that entering the water was foribidden. They warned that anyone entering the water would be fined NIS 730.

The inspectors shouted at swimmers to leave the water, surprising tourists who could not understand why they were being driven out of the sea on a Saturday. A few people caught in the water were fined.

Sunbathers said that in some cases, inspectors were accompanied by policemen.

A city spokesman said the police presence was a routine act meant to prevent crime and was unrelated to the closures.

The fines left a lot of people fuming.

"Someone in City Hall has lost it," said Uri Stark, the franchise owner who operates Gordon beach. "They've never fined people for entering the water before, or cordoned off the waterline, like the do in crime scenes. The most tranquil place in Tel Aviv has become threatening."

Stark also wondered about the city's allocation of resources.

"Why is it that they have money to post inspectors on the beach, but they can't afford to hire more lifeguards?" he asked. "Instead of enjoying their Saturday on the beach, people are banned from the water and even forced to pay a fine. It's ridiculous."

The lifeguards' labor dispute began when ones hired after 1999 demanded better working conditions. They demanded amendment to the collective contract signed in 2007, agreeing to continue working seven days a week, 12 hours a day - in exchange for higher pay.

The city refused to discuss new terms and chose instead to reduce their work hours, in keeping with their wage agreement, effectively shutting down certain beaches at certain hours.

"According to the Interior Ministry's instructions and to prevent risk to life, inspectors prevent beachgoers from entering the sea in the lifeguards' absence," a municipality statement said. "Cordoning off the water has been done for years throughout the bathing season ... Issuing a report for entering the water is a last resort measure, after attempts to ask the beachgoers to leave the water have failed."