Some Ballydoyle staff worked almost entire months last year

Grooms and exercise riders not exempt from working hours law, WRC inspector says

Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien  at the Labour Court. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Ballydoyle trainer Aidan O’Brien at the Labour Court. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


Some staff at the Ballydoyle racing stables in Tipperary worked virtually every day during a four-week period, the Labour Court has been told.

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) inspector Patrick Phelan also maintained that, in his view, grooms and exercise riders employed at Ballydoyle were not categories of workers covered by an exemption from working-time rules granted to agricultural enterprises.

The Labour Court on Tuesday heard the third day of an appeal brought by Ballydoyle, the country’s leading racing stables, against compliance notices served by the WRC over alleged excessive working hours on the part of some staff.

Ballydoyle argued that it was an agricultural operation and therefore exempt from rules governing working time. It also maintained that the the compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission were defective and therefore invalid.

Mr Phelan said he had been an inspector for 10 years examining a range of different employments. He carried out an inspection at Ballydoyle in February 2016.

He said employment records for the month of May, which he subsequently received from Ballydoyle, showed that some staff worked for 27 or 28 days in succession.

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Mr Phelan said other records for November revealed broadly similar working patterns among some workers.

Standard rosters

He said the standard two-week roster for grooms and exercise riders involved working seven days one week and 5½ on the second, or vice versa.

The WRC expressed concern about staff who, in addition, had to travel with horses to races, sometimes arriving back late at night and starting work again early the following morning.

Mr Phelan said the November records showed 19 employees worked either on 27 or 28 days in a four-week period.

Mr Phelan told the Labour Court that, in his view, grooms and exercise riders were not involved in the production of animals or crops and were not covered by the agricultural exemption.

He said other categories of workers at Ballydoyle would be covered by this exemption.

Even if grooms and exercise riders were covered by the agricultural exemption, he said, Ballydoyle was not complying with a requirement to provide them with compensatory rest periods.

Counsel for Ballydoyle Paul Gallagher said grooms and exercise riders were centrally involved in looking after and caring for horses. He argued that, in any version of language or law, this was an agricultural activity.

“What part of cleaning stables , feeding horses, caring for horses is not animal husbandry”, he said.