The Guardian 8 June, 2005

Surf lifesaving hit by deregulation

Surf lifesavers are battling to keep their heads above the flood of workplace changes flowing from Canberra. John Restuccia, Surf Lifesaving NSW director of lifesaving, warns the very people who rescue thousands of Australians every summer are those being targeted by employer demands for "flexibility".

"The increasing demands of work, and the changing nature of work, is affecting our ability recruit and retain members", he warned.

"It is fair to say the ranks of surf lifesavers in Australia are mainly from the lower to middle income classifications. Most of our active patrolling members are teenagers or people in their 20s or 30s.

"I am no labour market expert but this seems to be the group of people bearing the brunt of change in the nature of work, and labour market deregulation."

Mr Restuccia told the Unions NSW "Things Fall Apart" conference, that many people who had traditionally volunteered to be lifesavers now had more than one job, or uncertain hours.

This, he said, threatened the survival of an iconic Australian institution, based on the volunteer ethos.

He said surf lifesaving clubs had "implicit" contracts with the communities that supported and funded their operations. "Each season surf club members are allocated into rostered patrols and they must attend those patrols, or if absent, arrange a substitute", he explained.

"There is little flexibility in the system and most clubs penalise members for missing patrols by suspension. If volunteers don't turn up, for whatever reason, the beach is not patrolled and safety is at risk."

When minimum patrol requirements were not met, clubs were fined, and even suspended.

Surf lifesaving is Australia's largest volunteer water safety organisation. It has 303 clubs scattered along the coast of every state, and the Northern Territory.

There are around 37,000 patrolling members and, last year, they made 12,000 surf rescues.

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