Horse Racing Ireland seeks derogation from legislation for stable staff
Top trainer Ger Lyons concerned new rules will make staff crisis even worse
Ger Lyons: “You can have all the regulations you like but it Ballydoyle can’t handle it, we’re all finished.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho
Horse Racing Ireland has begun talks with two Government departments and is seeking a derogation for racing from controversial new legislation that removes agricultural worker status from stable staff.
The implications of last week’s Labour Court decision to reject an appeal by Ballydoyle Racing against Workplace Relations Commission compliance notices have been described as potentially disastrous for the sport.
A 2015 amendment to the Industrial Relations Act means training yards do not qualify anymore for working hours exemptions allowed for agricultural workplaces.
On Friday, one of the country’s leading trainer, Ger Lyons, expressed bemusement at the new categorisation of stable workers. He said racing is already battling a staffing crisis and predicted the legislation will only make it worse.
“I know people look through the white rails at the racetrack and see a sport. But to make that happen is agriculture. You can’t argue that I’m not playing in sport. But equally you can’t argue I’m not in agriculture.
“We’re the ones mucking out, in our wellies, up to our knees in muck; a commonsense approach to this is very much lacking,” he said.
Trainers Association chairman, Noel Meade, has predicted some trainers will be “wiped out” by the change in status and Lyons is concerned about its implications for staffing levels already under pressure.
“We have been at crisis point in relation to staff for quite a while and this will make it worse. I have 30 staff and I would have twice that if I could find them. But no one’s coming into the game.
“I need a Premiership squad to do my job: a first team, a second team and third team. And they’re just not there. We just don’t have enough people any more capable of doing this job.
“The WRC thing, and the regulations being imposed, whilst there’s good in them, the bad side is it’s stifling an industry already at crisis point.
“You can have all the regulations you like. But if Ballydoyle can’t handle it, we’re all finished,” Lyons added.
HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Friday he is hopeful of finding a solution to racing’s concerns.
He also confirmed HRI is in talks with officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine as well as the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation which introduced a new and more narrow definition of agriculture during their 2015 amendment of the relevant act. .
“The legislation provides opportunity for a derogation from absolute and strict application of that legislation provided appropriate compensatory measures are in place. We will make the case that our industry falls under that category and it’s a strong case given the nature of the work in the industry.
“Certain sectors, like hospitality, transport, agriculture, security get derogations from working time legislation provided compensatory arrangements are put in place, time as opposed to other forms of remuneration, so we will work on that basis,” Kavanagh said.
He added that the issue is a “fundamental one” across the bloodstock sector but rejected suggestions that the dangers of 2015’s legislative change could have been anticipated before being passed into law.
“I’m not sure if that tweak hadn’t happened that we’d still not be in the same place. My advice is that even if it hadn’t happened, this issue would still require some clarification,” Kavanagh said.
The legislation replaced joint-labour agreements previously in place across a range of sectors which were found to be unconstitutional and contained a more narrow definition of what constitutes agriculture.
At Ballydoyle’s Labour Court appeal the definition of agriculture was given as “raising animals and crops for human consumption”. Many figures within racing argue that definition is too narrow. Kavanagh also warned its implications could hurt Irish racing’s international competitiveness.
“Some French colleagues were here this week and told me everyone working in racing in France is deemed to be an agricultural worker, even those working in France Galop (French racing’s ruling body.) I don’t like to see us being put at a disadvantage against our competitors.
“I’m still hopeful we can come to a resolution on what is an industry wide issue and which isn’t case-specific. But that will mean buy-in from other parties too,” he said.