Labour Court told Ballydoyle staff often ‘volunteer’ to work on time off

WRC said training and caring for racehorses did not constitute agriculture


Grooms and other staff working at the Aidan O’Brien-run, John Magnier-owned Ballydoyle Racing Stables regularly “volunteer” to come to work during their rostered time off, the Labour Court heard this morning.

The court is hearing an appeal by Golden Dale, which trades as Ballydoyle, against compliance notices issued against it by Workplace Relations Commission over the allegedly excessive working hours of some staff without breaks.

Robbie Manton, who is the head of yard at Ballydoyle, told the court that most grooms arrive in work at 6.30am, although sometimes they can sometimes be be rostered to come in at 5am for feeding.

Mr Manton, who is among the staff who were the subject of compliance notices, said his typical day starts at 6am. He said they all typically worked until close to 12 noon, then took a break until 3pm, before returning to work until 5pm.

He indicated that grooms and exercise riders received on average one-and-a-half days off per fortnight, but could “volunteer” to come in on rostered time off, on, for example, the morning after their horse did well in a race.

“They would do it to get the congratulations (on their horse’s win). It’s our personal choice,” he said. “We get a bond with the horses.”

Each groom has between four and six horses under their care, he told the court. He said he, or sometimes grooms, could be contacted to deal with issues with their horses on their days off, or in evenings or overnight. Each of a groom’s 4-6 horses would also race several times a year.

On race days to, for example, Dundalk, Mr Manton said staff would start as normal in Ballydoyle at between 5 am or 6.30am, and would not return to the stables until “about 12.30am” that night, where they would do another half hour’s work before finishing.

The horseboxes used often contained bunk beds for grooms, who could sleep in them if required when travelling.

If it was a race in England, the horses would fly from Shannon the evening before after a normal day’s work, accompanied by the grooms. They would then return and finish work at about 10.30pm the following evening, which Noel Travers, the barrister for the WRC, described as “working for two days flat”.

Mr Travers asked whether, at the end of a race trip such as a 1am finish after Dundalk, these staff would then normally come in at the usual 6.30am start for the next day’s work. Mr Manton agreed this often happened.

“We choose to have that connection with the horses, to give them that level of care ,” he said. “It’s probably our own fault. If that horse won, they wouldn’t want anyone else touching their horse. That’s generally what happens.”

Earlier on Monday, the court heard from Clem Murphy, who is bloodstock consultant at Coolmore’s breeding operation. Ballydoyle is effectively the racing arm of Coolmore, although they are separate legal entities.

On the issue of grooms working from early morning until after midnight on race days, he said the grooms would not be “physically working” for a lot of that period.

“They can have a rest, read a book, or lie down (in the bunks within the horseboxes),” Mr Murphy said. “I’m saying there is plenty of downtime. It’s not all work.”

Mr Murphy said the work of Ballydoyle was essential to the Coolmore operation, and that training winners boosted the value of those horses to Coolmore.

Ballydoyle is arguing that it shouldn’t have to implement normal rules on working times and breaks, because it is essentially taking part in agriculture, for which some exemptions are allowed.