Israeli threat to lifeguard strikers

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The Independent Online
ISRAEL MAY bring in lifeguards from Turkey, Greece and Cy-prus to save swimmers' lives and break a nine-week strike, during which 33 people have drowned off the deceptively placid-looking beaches, a death rate five times that in the similar period last year.

The 210 strikers are being ordered back to work. The lifeguards normally operate from platforms overlooking the beaches, bellowing instructions and warnings through loudhailers to bathers in danger.

The waves along Israel's Mediterranean coast are not high but fierce under-currents close to the shore mean beaches are much more dangerous than they appear. On one weekend five people drowned and the toll has been climbing as schools close for the summer.

The authorities say lifeguards can earn about pounds 2,000 a month, making them among the highest-paid workers in Israel. The strikers dispute this and say they earn far less.

They are also demanding higher pensions, saying that lifeguards age faster because they are more exposed to sun and sea. Yesterday the lifeguards and local authorities were negotiating.

Israeli unions are not as strong as they once were, but they are still militant, and powerful enough to cause crippling strikes. Earlier this year, public sector workers closed the main telephone exchanges and heaps of rubbish accumulated in the streets.