Lifeguards' Skirmish With City Disrupts Tel Aviv's Bustling Beach Life

Municipality officials say work dispute with Tel Aviv's lifeguards stems from the guard's refusal to work overtime.

A working dispute between the Tel Aviv municipality and lifeguards has brought on the indefinite closure of acity beach, over what city officials say is the lifeguards' refusal to work overtime.

Of the 13 public beaches with supervised swimming, only Hilton beach will be closed all week, with Tzuk Darom beach to be closed on Fridays and the separated "religious" beach to be closed on Saturdays.

The city employs 53 lifeguards, 37 on a permanent basis and 16 seasonally, according to a collective bargaining contract signed in 2007. Of the permanent employees, 23 are grandfathered under previous labor agreements, with more generous terms of employment, and are known as "Group A" employees. The other 14 are "Group B" lifeguards, who share their contract terms with their seasonally employed colleagues.

According to Ruby Zluf, a senior city official, in previous years the lifeguards agreed to work longer hours than their contracts and Israeli labor law permitted, adding that they were repeatedly informed that the municipality would accede in the event any refused to work the longer hours.

Zluf said that if all the lifeguards were to work according to the rules, 30 additional lifeguards would be needed in order to keep all the beaches open as usual.

City officials said that in late April, one day after the official bathing season began, they received a letter signed by all Group B lifeguards in which they refused to violate the terms of their contract by working more days and longer hours, as they had in the past.

City council member Yoav Goldring, who heads the city's control committee, blamed the municipality for the imminent beach closures. "I don't understand how it is that every year the municipality wakes up to a lifeguard shortage," Goldring said.