PHUKET — Lifeguards on Phuket said they definitely won’t be on patrol come Sunday as their offer of another year’s contract was withdrawn by the resort island’s administration.
A contract dispute between the lifeguards who keep Phuket beaches safe and the officials who pay them escalated this week with an official likening their threat to withdraw from the beaches as a bomb-throwing betrayal. On Friday, a Phuket Lifeguard Association board member said its lifeguards would no longer be offered a new contract.
“Our contract ends tomorrow and they didn’t extend the contract or hire us,” association President Prathaiyut Chuayuan said Friday. “It’s confirmed that our lifeguards won’t be on the beaches. As for the company, the future is unclear.”
Provincial authorities could not immediately be reached to confirm the decision.
The dispute erupted Tuesday when contractor Phuket Lifeguard Service announced it would stop patrolling the beaches after Saturday, when the current contract expires. The lifeguards say that in seven years, their funding has never increased and actually been cut, going from 22 million baht in 2010 to a proposed 19.8 million baht for next year.
“This is like throwing a bomb into government chambers, destroying Phuket’s reputation,” said Kantanaphat Pisitkhunnanon of the Phuket Provincial Administration. “To call them ungrateful is an understatement,” he said. “You got the money, made a name for yourself in society, and then you decide to pull out?”
Kantanaphat said funding has always averaged 20 million baht, and 2018 wouldn’t be the first year it’s dipped to 19.8 million baht. He said Phuket Lifeguard Service submitted a budget request on Aug. 17 seeking 23.76 million for 2018. The government refused and set it at 19.8 million baht instead.
“Every year, they propose an increased budget without reason. We council members want taxpayer money to be used in the best way possible, not to be poured carelessly into this contractor,” Kantanaphat said.
Phuket Lifeguard Service said the amount is insufficient to pay all of its salaries and maintain its equipment.
Kantanaphat said the company neglected to providing sufficient justification for the increase.
“If you have more employees or more work, increasing the budget is possible,” Kantanaphat said.
Phuket City Hall has budgeted an average of 20 million baht annually for the past seven years, amounting to 170 million baht to keep the beaches on the popular resort island safe.
Lifeguards are supposed to be paid 15,000 baht per month, but each lifeguard is only paid 12,000, Kantanaphong said, because the company is deducting its own tax burden from their salaries.
“Are you brave enough to line up the lifeguards and ask them one by one if they’re getting paid that much?” he asked.
Watcharin Pathomwatthnapong, deputy governor of the Phuket Provincial Administration, added at the end of the heated meeting that local government has “three backup plans” to deal with the situation that he does not want to reveal yet.
“Tourists will continue to be safe,” Watcharin said.
Prataiyuth said Friday that the beaches will be patrolled not by his lifeguards but by government-appointed lifeguards or navy officers.