Perrie was just looking for a new job as a driver – he never expected to be put in charge of saving potentially drowning people.
But that’s exactly what happened when he applied at Red Cross Malta, one of the island’s leading rescue and assistance organisations. After seeing an advertisement for an opening for a driver, he applied but was informed that he was needed as a lifeguard.
“I was told I’d eventually become a supervisor with my own car if I stayed at the job,” Perrie told Lovin Malta. “But when I started on Monday morning, I got to the office and was forced to be a lifeguard with no training, taken to Mellieħa Bay, and left at a tower for nine hours on my first day with no first aid or any real training.”
“I quit after a few days as I was getting worried for people’s lives… if anything did happen, I was not qualified for the job and I couldn’t have that on me,” he said.
Assigned a supervisor, Perrie says he was given an explanation on how to handle jellyfish stings and given a walkie-talkie and some other medical equipment. He ended up spending four days on the job, during which time he put up flags the wrong way around and treated a young boy’s jellyfish stings.
“I was the only person on duty at that beach when a young boy came running to the tower shouting ‘my friend’s been stung!'”
“All I saw was a lady and a young boy running towards me and as the boy was screaming I was thinking ‘oh my God what’s going on here’ but luckily enough it was just a jellyfish sting.”
By Thursday, he said he decided he’d had enough and called up his contact from the Red Cross to ask “why they tricked me into being a lifeguard with no training when I applied for a driving job”.
“She just replied by saying there are no open driving jobs currently available.”
Malta’s Red Cross has pioneered lifeguarding services in Malta and Gozo and is considered an auxiliary to the government, providing essential back-up to the Department of Health, the Civil Protection Department and the Armed Forces of Malta.
However, a lack of manpower due to COVID-19 travel restrictions has forced the Red Cross to recruit whoever they can for the important job, an informed source told Lovin Malta.
“It is a desperate situation and it is common knowledge.”
“This is the first summer we’ve had so few staff members – we usually share volunteers with international agencies, with some of the strongest countries being Bulgaria and Serbia – but now this door has been closed,” they lamented.
“We have tried with other countries but they aren’t the same,” they continued. “Since COVID-19 hit, some 95,000 foreign workers have left the country – and it’s not just us suffering, we’ve been talking to recruitment agencies who are in the same situation.”
Any and all new recruits are being asked if they’d like to become lifeguards, and if they are interested, are assigned spots at the easiest bay with the most other lifeguards on it – usually Mellieħa – for a few days to see if they are up for the job.
When it comes to Perrie’s situation, they said there had clearly been a misunderstanding.
“We tell all applicants that we need lifeguards,” they said. “The blunt situation we are seeing is – you get people who don’t have a job, they apply for many jobs, and at the moment there’s a big chase for people, so lots of businesses are coming up with rates in a panic.”
“Rates are going up drastically, and it becomes about people looking for a better income… so you recruit, you train them, six days intensive training, then you put them on the beaches and then suddenly something crops up and they leave.”
“When this individual applied to be a driver, we told him we don’t have vacancies for drivers, but if you want you can try to be a lifeguard – and if you are good you could even qualify to be a supervisor one day.”
They explained that Perrie had been given a uniform and informed of what was happening and that he was always placed with a supervisor. After a few days, he left them.
“We are really stuck for people – and we are seeing lots of people come in, do a couple of days with us and then leave,” they ended “Our line of work is not easy – if you want to work in a supermarket, you can start tomorrow, but we need to give our lifeguards training.”
What do you make of this lifeguard situation?