Ireland's champion trainer Aidan O'Brien has said he is ready to legally argue a Labour Court ruling rejecting his appeal in January against Workplace Relations Commission compliance notices issued in 2016.
Compliance notices were issued by the WRC over infringements of the Working Time Act during inspections at the world famous Ballydoyle stables. During the appeal evidence was given of stable staff there working up to 19 hours a day and up to 28 days in a row.
However a 2015 amendment to the Industrial Relations Act means racing yard employees don’t come under the status of agricultural worker any more and stables don’t get working hours exemptions.
The Minister For Agriculture Food & Marine Michael Creed has urged that horse racing yards be made exempt from strict implementation of workplace legislation.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has been lobbied extensively about a possible derogation for racing and has passed the matter on to the Attorney General for consideration.
There has been deep unease within racing after the dismissal of Ballydoyle Racing's appeal to the Labour Court and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association chairman, Noel Meade, predicted some trainers will be forced out of business if a compromise on racing's new categorisation as a non-agricultural industry isn't found.
Ballydoyle Racing’s Labour Court ruling was widely seen in terms of being a test-case for the whole industry. On Wednesday O’Brien confirmed he is prepared to pursue a legal route with a first step being a District Court appeal.
“It won’t stop. We’re doing it for everyone in the industry. We will survive anyway [in Ballydoyle]. But we need everyone to stay in racing from all different levels. That’s very important. Everyone has to survive and make a living. And these things will make it impossible for people,” O’Brien said.
“In racing you’re dealing with animals, like farmers, and at different times of the year you’re busy. It’s like farmers doing silage or whatever. Animals have to be fed and dealt with on a daily basis and people become very attached to them.
“We’re not trying to offend anyone. The WRC are the last people we’re trying to offend. What we’re trying to do is get people to understand. We don’t ask people to do anything unless they’re very happy and comfortable to do it,” he added.
The world record-breaking trainer said he is in a fortunate position in terms of resources and staffing levels. But he stressed how many other trainers are struggling to make their businesses pay as it is. He also pointed to a shortage of qualified stable staff in the racing industry as a whole.
After January's Labour Court ruling, Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh described the matter as being of very serious concern for racing generally.
HRI is the semi-state body responsible for racing and reports to the Department of Agriculture Food & Marine despite the controversial recategorisation of racing as a non-agricultural activity. Any potential derogation will have to come through the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
“There have been substantial discussions between the departments about whether racing qualifies for a derogation from strict implementation of the Working Time Act. They’ve gone to the Attorney General on legal clarity on the situation,” said Kavanagh on Wednesday.