Public outrage and lifeguard despair over 6 months of unpaid wages in Arona beaches
Update 5 April: In all dark stories there are glimmers of light, and this is no exception. Through the kindness of Live-Arico-PAWS-Tenerife, Veronica’s dog Sebastian has been able to go to the vet to have his vaccinations – his medical booklet is now all up to date. Let’s hope the same can soon be said for the lifeguards’ situation! Above is a gorgeous photo of Sebastian and Veronica.
Update 4 April: TV Canarias will have another report on the lifeguards tomorrow morning live on TV, on the Buenos Días Canarias programme from 8.30am.
Update 2 April: The fourth mediation meeting took place this morning and I wish I could post something positive but I cannot. Despite Trabajo criticising the lack of coordination in the municipality, and putting various options on the table, the local authority dismissed them all as not viable. Both Trabajo and municipality are to make further submissions within ten days … and meanwhile the lifeguards are left high and dry. In a further sinister turn, it seems that Arona Policía Local are to report on whether the municipal police can take over the service, those of them with lifesaving qualifications, of course. Where that would leave the lifeguards does not take much imagination. It doesn’t take too much imagination, either, to wonder where that leaves the public who use the beaches and whose lives are at risk in the sea.
Meanwhile, Marjan from Balú Bar-restaurant in San Telmo, Los Cristianos, is arranging for customers to drop off food at the bar to be handed over to the lifeguards, and to Sebastian the Dog, on Saturday 13 April. Marjan says that after the hand over, the lifeguards and their families are invited to a free meal and drinks at Balú Bar. There is some human kindness after all, even if it’s apparently not to be found in the Ayuntamiento.
Update 1 April: If all goes well, I will be on Radio Sur Adeje (click HERE to listen online) in the English slot between 1 and 1.30 talking to Clio O’Flynn about the lifeguards situation.
Update 31 March: Please note that from today, there is no lifeguard cover in any Arona beach apart from Playa de las Vistas. Please take extreme care if you are using the beaches anywhere from Costa del Silencio to Playa Troya in Playa de las Américas. There is no safety provision in these beaches now.
Update 30 March: The lifeguards have tonight issued the following statement:
The Arona Rescue and Lifeguard Service, with a team of 18, has decided by a majority to limit the service and the strike to Playa de las Vistas, where the lifeguard base is located.
From tomorrow, there will be no lifeguard cover at El Camisón or Los Cristianos beaches, in addition to there being no vehicles and so no roaming patrols between Costa del Silencio and Playa Troya. There will also be no disabled bathroom facilities either.
Please present any complaints by phone to Arona Ayuntamiento on 010, or in person at any of the Atención al Ciudadano “SAC” offices. We sincerely apologise for the inconvenience, but after eight months of official abandonment, and 18 lifeguards working without pay since July 2012, we hope you will appreciate our position, and thank you in advance for your understanding.
Update 28 March: Let’s spare a thought this Easter for the Arona lifeguards, now 8 months into a forced work-to-rule for no pay whatsoever, and with no apparent solution in sight. The above picture shows how beautiful the coastline is, but it is also dangerous for the 10,000 or so visitors who are spending the Easter weekend there. With virtually no equipment, nor vehicles, and seemingly abandoned by their true employers (however much the Council might deny the responsibility), these lifesavers are still there. Show them some support if you can, and spare them a thought. If there’s anything to the Easter message it is that of sacrifice and salvation. Who does more, these days, and in Arona especially, to sacrifice and save than the lifeguards themselves. Without getting all religious, who is more entitled right now to say “my god why have you forsaken me”.
18 March: Do have a look at the political blog Blancahari (click the name) … even if it needs to be run through Google translate the gist will be there. Seven months of non-payments; official lies; over 5,000 signatures on a petition; complaints to the Town hall; critical reports in the local, national and foreign media; an alert for exposed pipes in Las Vistas beach; department of employment mediation itself saying the Ayuntamiento should pay the lifeguards; the apparent disappearance of Arona’s blue flags … ! Shame appears to be the only weapon left. Please use it and spread the word of what Arona is doing to its own best assets – best touristic and human assets …
Update 7 March: The lifeguards have had a second meeting with the Dept of Employment, together with union representatives and Arona environment councillor, Antonio Sosa. The regional government has ruled that it will intervene in the dispute, and a solution has been proposed, namely that the Ayuntamiento should appoint a contractor without the new business assuming existing debts (i.e. the embargo of some €600,000) and for the Ayuntamiento itself to settle the seven months of outstanding wages plus social security contributions for the lifeguards. It should be clear by Monday how the Ayuntamiento reacts to this.
Update 27 February: In the mediation meeting convened by the DG de Trabajo, the company did not attend, hardly surprising since it has not been involved in the matter for a considerable time, but the council was represented … by an Environment technician. In the chair, and mediating, were the Directora Grl.de Trabajo and the Jefe Grl. de Inspección. The Government representatives appeared surprised by the council’s claim that their own legal advice was that they could do nothing to help the lifeguards, and gave the council five days to find a solution before the Government itself intervenes.
While the council has been given five days, however, a new contract has been awarded to yet another business to run the lifeguard service. The would-be contractor, Rescatador, has a fortnight to decide if it is to accept the poisoned chalice. The Ayuntamient’s decision was taken in the council meeting yesterday morning, which saw accusations flying back and forth between governing party and opposition, with the governing faction claiming the opposition was seeking to damage Arona’s reputation, and the opposition claiming that the governing faction were corrupt. The governing faction’s response, given by Environment councillor and effectively second-in-command in Arona, Antonio Sosa, was, in a nutshell “prove it”.
Update 26 February: As I posted below, the lifeguards, along with others, were invited to a mediation meeting with the Government this morning. Now, Arona’s full council meetings are always held on a Thursday, and the lifeguards were planning a protest during this week’s meeting. Lo and behold, according to activist website BlancaHari, the mayor has gone “on holiday”, and the council meeting was shifted ….. to this morning at 8.30, the very time the lifeguards were to be in Santa Cruz. As evident in the above photo of this morning’s council meeting, however, Arona’s attempt to avoid a protest at their meeting failed badly: the photo shows lifeguards, journalists, radio and TV all attending.
Update 4pm: Veronica has been strongly encouraged by many British visitors and residents to set up a paypal account for donations for the lifeguard cause. She has now done so, and the link is HERE. I would just like to stress that this is not something she has taken an initiative on, but is reacting to many suggestions and requests from those who wish to help. She says that all monies will go towards their cause.
Update 20 February: As I posted previously, Veronica took it upon herself to contact the Dept of Employment, not least because the lifeguards were being required to provide a minimum service even when there was no apparent desire to negotiate on the part of Arona Ayuntamiento – it is the assumption of such goodwill that underpins the requirement for minimum services, with the idea that an agreement will be reached quickly. The Dirección Grl.de Trabajo replied to Veronica in some surprise, because the Ayuntamiento had seemingly not once brought the dispute to their attention.
Veronica was requested to go to Santa Cruz yesterday to see Dept of Employment officials, and she says that she got a very good feeling from the meeting, not least the feeling that there was actually someone in authority who had an interest in the case and in offering a bit of protection. The Dept has said that it wishes to mediate between the lifeguards and Arona Ayuntamiento, and above is a copy of the “invitation” to a mediation meeting set for next Tuesday. This particular photo is of the letter to Sport & Salvament, but the Ayuntamiento and lifeguards are also called to attend. As Veronica says, only time will tell whether they will do so, but they will not do their cause any good if they boycott a meeting called by the national Government’s own Department of Employment. Some progress has been made, and it is Veronica herself who has made it.
Update 18 February: Veronica has posted today some photos on her FB account, the above are a couple – the first of the lifeguard base office, and the second of a cupboard empty of essential medical supplies. As Veronica says, the oxygen equipment is not inspected, and they are almost out of oxygen itself. The “office” has no telephone, no fax – not even fire extinguishers, which I understood were a legal requirement. In short, they have been provided with nothing that any functioning office should have.
Are these lifeguards supposed to use their own mobiles for emergency calls? Their own mobiles when they’re not even being paid? And the quad supplied for rapid emergency displacement has been left for months without insurance, without an MOT, even without petrol! These are the conditions in which they are expected to work, conditions which would appall any employee … let alone those who aren’t even being paid …..
Canarias7 recently ran an article (HERE) about Arona’s attempt to sell itself at a very recent tourism fair (Feria Internacional de Turismo – Fitur). As the paper says, the council stressed its climate, its hotels, and above all, the excellence of its beaches. The article continues that nobody said a word, however, about the fact that these beaches are now manned by unpaid forced labour with a minimum safety provision.
Tourism is Tenerife’s, and of course Arona’s, main economic motor. Apart from the shamefulness of the situation, it is just absolutely stupid to allow things to come to this pass. Even if the council cares nothing for its own reputation, surely it is not determined to ruin that of its main asset!
Update 17 February: Above is a recent news report from antena3canarias on the lifeguards which also shows how neglected the Arona base is, and in particular how empty the medical cabinet is. Are these lifeguards also expected to supply first aid equipment? Does Arona Ayuntamiento actually accept any responsibility for anything? For shame.
Update 15 February 9pm: Veronica is indomitable. She is back at the base, protesting once again. She is no longer on hunger strike, after yesterday this isn’t possible, but she is back to her protest, along with her fellow unpaid lifeguards, providing minimum services for a council that requires them to work but denies any employer relationship with them!
Update 15 February: Veronica collapsed yesterday after her interview on Canarian television. She was taken to hospital suffering a migraine and low blood pressure. The Ayuntamiento had just sent someone to check that minimum services were being provided but it seems that is all the support they can offer this woman, and her fellow strikers, amidst further reports of intimidating visits by Policía Local sent by the Ayuntamiento. This morning Veronica has said that although she is still feeling the after effects of the migraine and the antibiotics she was given, she is stable, and will stay at home today. She intends, however, to return to the base to protest.
Update 13 February: Veronica will be on TV Canaria’s “Good morning Canaries” tomorrow morning at 8am. This is live TV seen throughout the Canaries. Go along if you can to Camping SOS Socorristas ARONA, the lifeguard protest base. She would welcome your support.
Update 12 February: The following is a Press Release in the form of an open letter to the public and to Arona Ayuntamiento from Verónica Rodríguez Rodríguez, the Las Vistas lifeguard who is on hunger strike, She has issued it in response to the council’s statement that I posted yesterday. (The press release was evidently in Spanish – this is my translation. To download the original in Spanish click HERE).
On 12 February, the newspaper El Dia published a statement from Arona Ayuntamiento as a response to the “conflict”. We (or at least I) were surprised because for six months of what they call “conflict” they have not previously issued any information to the public about the situation and the minimum services that have been provided in Arona beaches since 9 November 2011.
In the face of such a statement full of nonsense and half truths, I would like to clarify that:
The contract awarded by Arona Ayuntamiento in 2009 to Sport & Salvament SLU expired in November 2011 because the Ayuntamiento “forgot” to extend it. Even so, the local authority continued paying invoices until August 2012, the point at which July-August’s bill was withheld because of an embargo imposed by the social security and tax authorities. This means that the Ayuntamiento paid these authorities instead of the business. It seems that this situation surprised them, because they then decided to stop so as not to take on Sport & Salvament SLU’s embargoes.
In July 2012, the employees stopped receiving their salaries.
In August 2012, the contract was put out to tender, a competition won by Eulen SL, which renounced the award a month later, in November, because of the “existence of lawsuits that it would have to assume”, and because this would involve great cost. The contract was next awarded to Pro-Activa, which itself renounced the contract on 1 February 2013 for the same reasons.
Throughout all this time, the employees of the three Arona beaches, with blue flags – and Las Vistas also with AENOR flag for Universal Accessibility – have never stopped providing the service, always believing, until 15 days ago, in the “Ayuntamiento’s attempts to solve the problem” (as the council says).
In view of the strike call, the Council demanded “minimum services” given that this is an “essential public service”. The Department of Employment confirmed this, and so we were “obliged” to provide the service every day without receiving anything in return. They have never bothered even to offer us food and water.
Over the last six months we have had no contact whatsoever with the company Sport & Salvament, and the Ayuntamiento, knowing that there was no contract with the company, that it had solvency problems, and that there have been notifications on several occasions from the lifeguard base that they were working in precarious conditions, have not bothered either to replace first aid materials, to clean public facilities, nor to check vehicles whose papers are now months out of date and which cannot make the appropriate patrols since there’s no fuel, let alone transfers to the beaches of Los Cristianos and El Camisón, and cover for the half hour breaks of the lifeguards who are providing minimum services there.
I am “surprised” that for six months Arona Ayuntamiento has not “informed the public” and that they do so now as a result of reports in the press and discussion as a major topic in online social networks, British forums, etc., and that it has not been concerned with the sanitary conditions of a service to the public service that provides in its turn a socio-sanitary and public security service. And as “we now” reveal the truth, they put out a statement where they accuse us of little less than vandalism. This is untrue, and a serious accusation without proof which is punishable in law. Faced with the charge that “we have destroyed Public Facilities” we say this is not true, and that all we have are flags, sheets, and cardboard, and a campaign stands. I want to make clear that I (Veronica Rodriguez) have been camping at the lifeguard base since January 29, am on hunger strike, and that I woke up on Sunday to find slogans had been posted. The maintenance staff were deleting “only part” of them, and so I asked why they were not clearing them all. They replied that these were their orders. Then the police arrived to take pictures and that same night the council issued its statement. It seems particularly “strange” to me.
To Arona Ayuntamiento, I say:
Break the deadlock now of this situation that only you have caused, and which has already been delayed (now six and a half months). If the service had been rescued in September 2012, after the embargo on Sport & Salvament, the situation would not be so tense now. We have complied with your demands for minimum services, even without the means to come to work: many without car insurance, without fuel, living on borrowed money, credit, not even having food to eat, and with “some colleagues” who are demonstrating peacefully for donations given by sympathetic beach users and tourists. This now violates our constitutional, employment and “human” rights.
I also say that the current situation (after three months of strike without a solution) has been reported to the Department of Employment for them to “reconsider the provision of minimum services”. As we understand it, it is ridiculous and somewhat inhuman to demand employees go to work without being paid for six months” and in the deplorable sanitary conditions in which the service finds itself.
In response to your statement I also say that: of the “two people” they mention who are on hunger strike, Marco Luccini passed out on Thursday, his 5th day without eating; he was taken away by ambulance and admitted to hospital for several hours. Obviously at that point he had to abandon the hunger strike. This is further proof that the Ayuntamiento have not been to the lifeguard base not have any idea of how things really are. The employee who remains on hunger strike, now for 15 days, and who is sleeping at the lifeguard base, is me.
To “apologize to users and tourists” is well and good, but you have failed in refusing to accept responsibility for the situation of the 18 lifeguards who , without being paid for six months, continue to supply the service.
I hope that these clarifications will add to the statement issued by Arona Environment Department.
Verónica Rodríguez Rodríguez.
At Playa de Las Vistas, Arona, 12 February 2013
Update 11 February: Arona Ayuntamiento has said that it would be “illegal” to pay the outstanding salaries to the lifeguards because there is no contract between them and the council. The local authority apologised to residents and beach users for any inconvenience caused by the dispute, and said that Arona has always been noted for the excellence of its services, confirmed by the numerous distinctions bestowed on its beaches.
The council claimed that it understood the lifeguards’ motives but could not agree with the way in which they were protesting, and stressed that since the award of the contract to a new business was in process, it was hoped that the situation would get back to normal as quickly as possible. Fine words, so perhaps the Ayuntamiento will now yield to the Courts’ third demand, on pain of being found in contempt of Court, for it to release information on how much it owes the contractor who did employ the lifguards, and to make good the payments owing. That, surely, won’t be illegal.
Update 9 February: There is now a petition to sign urging Arona council to get these lifeguards paid. It is HERE. It’s only in Spanish, I’m afraid, but all that’s needed is for you to enter your first name, then your surname, then your email address. There is room for a comment but that’s optional. Then click to sign.
Update 10am: The papers today are covering the story of one of the hunger strikers, Verónica Rodríguez, who is staging her hunger strike in a tent at her place of work on Playa de las Vistas in Los Cristianos. Why should I not live in a tent, she says? I’ve already lost everything and the bank is about to repossess my apartment and evict me anyway because my family are no longer able to help me keep up the mortgage payments. Given that she has a job, she would not be one of the tiny minority entitled to kind treatment by banks: that this job is not bringing in any wages would not be considered “relevant”. The lifeguards’ situation has been called “unsustainable”. It’s not the only situation that could be so described.
Original post 31 January: An argument, indeed an outrage, that has been rumbling on for six months has now culminated in some 20 Arona lifeguards going on hunger strike. The guards have not been paid wages for all that time, and unions say they deplore the Ayuntamiento’s “passivity” in effectively ignoring the workers’ plight. The council, for its part, says that the problem is that the lifeguards are employed, and must be paid, by a private company contracted by the municipality, and that this company is in financial difficulties.
Some might ask whether or not this company is now surely in breach of its contractual obligations to the Ayuntamiento, since it can hardly be expected that such contracts allow for employees’ wages not to be paid. As such, some might also ask why the council hasn’t annulled the contract and given it to another business which will pay its staff. Such tales of workers going months without pay are not uncommon here, indeed they underpin the frequent rubbish strikes that plague the south of Tenerife, but six months without money and workers needing to go on hunger strike in desperation brings shame on Tenerife.