Employment law restrictions a threat to Sunday racing

HRI to meet with Government officials and seek a derogation from rules for stable staff

There are fears the impact of controversial new employment law in relation to hours worked by stable staff could impact on Ireland’s racing programme and Sunday fixtures in particular.

Horse Racing Ireland officials will meet with Government officials this week and are seeking a derogation from working time legislation that has removed agricultural worker status from stable staff.

Noel Meade, chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, has already predicted some trainers will be "wiped out" after a recent Labour Court rejection of a Ballydoyle Racing appeal against Workplace Relations Commission compliance notices.

A 2015 amendment to the Industrial Relations Act means training yards no longer qualify for working hours exemptions allowed for agricultural workplaces.

Widespread concern about the impact of any loss of flexibility in relation to working practises has been expressed by trainers. One, who preferred to remain anonymous, has predicted it will impact on both Sunday racing and Friday night racing at Dundalk in particular.

“The probability is that if isn’t sorted, Friday night meetings in Dundalk are in jeopardy, and so are Sundays. If somebody goes to Dundalk on a Friday night, under this legislation they can’t work again until Monday. They have to have 11 hours off.

“Up to now if someone went to Dundalk on Friday, and then went racing on Saturday and Sunday as well, we, under agriculture law, could say to them take Wednesday and Thursday off. We could compensate, and there wasn’t a problem.

“There’s so much emphasis on weekends in racing and this isn’t an industry where you can just take more people in at weekends.

“Horses are difficult in all ways and you really need experienced staff. It’s not everyone can do it. Horses have to be looked after seven days a week and the WRC don’t seem to realise this. Going strictly by the new law it will put Sunday and Friday night meetings in jeopardy,” he said on Sunday.

Significantly Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday such a scenario emphasises the need for racing to get a derogation from strict Working Time legislation.

Some flexibility

“If the industry can’t operate with some flexibility around working time arrangements it will cause difficulties,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean ignoring working time legislation. It means putting in compensatory arrangements in terms of time off.

“The working time legislation is geared towards a normal working week, Monday to Friday, nine to five. But some derogations are allowed for certain sectors whose work patterns don’t provide for Monday to Friday.

“Evening racing through the summer, Sunday racing, they’re all outside a normal working week. So that’s an illustration of how a derogation is needed. It reflects the seriousness of this,” Kavanagh added.

HRI’s CEO confirmed that any derogation will be the responsibility of Heather Humphries, the Minister for Business, Enterprise & Innovation, rather than the Minister for Agriculture, Food & Marine.

“The working time legislation was brought in by that department and it provides for the possibility of a derogation,” Kavanagh said.

“There are derogations provided for other sectors but we would always work with a department like that through our mother department in Agriculture.

“It’s the normal way we do it. Even if we engage with any other Government department we would do it through our department first,” he added.

The Co Waterford trainer Henry De Bromhead said on Sunday he had recently been inspected by WRC officials and was encouraged by what he experienced.

“We had an inspection the other day and I found them very reasonable. Obviously there are a few things our industry needs to sort out with them. But I got the impression they’d be happy to work with us. So hopefully we’ll get something worked out between us all,” De Bromhead said.

The trainer confirmed Champagne West will bid to join an elite group and defend his Goffs Thyestes Chase crown at Gowran this Thursday.

Just half a dozen horses have twice won the prestigious €100,000 handicap and Champagne West will have to overcome topweight and two disappointing runs so far this season if he’s to join them.

“He’s been disappointing this year so far but he’s going to run. It looked last year like he wants very soft ground but it was pretty soft at Tramore [on New Year’s Day] and he was disappointing,” added De Bromhead.

Champagne West is currently a 16-1 shot to repeat his Thyestes success.