John Oxx says racing is ‘astounded’ at new stable staff legislation

Legendary trainer describes regulations as ‘not practical’ and ‘not fair’

John Oxx: “We were always agriculture. We have to be agriculture. Looking after horses is an agricultural activity. It’s looking after animals.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

John Oxx: “We were always agriculture. We have to be agriculture. Looking after horses is an agricultural activity. It’s looking after animals.” Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

 

One of Ireland’s most renowned trainers, John Oxx, has described stripping stable staff of agricultural worker status as impractical and unfair, adding that controversial changes to working time legislation have left the racing industry “astounded”.

The fallout from a recent Labour Court rejection of a Ballydoyle Racing appeal against Workplace Relations Commission compliance notices continues with Horse Racing Ireland officials planning to lobby the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation for a derogation from strict implementation of new working time legislation.

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

On Tuesday, in response to an Irish Times query about whether or not the Department of Agriculture, Food & Marine was made aware of a change to the definition of agriculture before it was passed into law, an Agriculture department spokesman said employment legislation is a matter for the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation.

He added: “It should be noted that HRI and the WRC have undertaken a joint-initiative of education and information on employment law for employers in the sector. Work on this has commenced and has already involved employer groups within the industry, with a view to being completed by quarter 1, 2018.

“The department is aware of the serious adverse implications for the horse racing sector and has been in contact with the department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation.”

However with staffing levels already under pressure, it has been forecast that new legislation, which includes a requirement for workers to have 11 hours off after finishing a working day, could threaten the sustainability of some trainers’ businesses, as well as having an impact on the racing programme.

Oxx, the hugely respected former champion trainer who masterminded Sea The Stars’ legendary 2009 classic campaign, has described a situation where training horses can’t be categorised under agriculture as “ridiculous”.

 He also said he is hopeful a derogation can be granted and pointed to VAT regulations for racing as a potential argument. 

“Agricultural workers have always had a derogation from normal industrial working practises because horses have to be looked after seven days a week. So I’m hopeful we can get the same treatment again and it is just a mistake to categorise us as something other than agriculture.

Always agriculture

“It is not practical, it’s not fair, and people are astounded by it, quite rightly,” Oxx said on Tuesday.

“We were always agriculture. We have to be agriculture. Looking after horses is an agricultural activity. It’s looking after animals. Husbandry is considered to be 90 per cent of the work of a racing stable. It has been established and that’s been the way in regard to our VAT status.

“Ninety per cent of training racehorses is animal husbandry. Ten per cent is a trainer’s expertise and service. That’s the way our VAT is assessed.

“If 90 per cent of what goes on in a training stable is animal husbandry , how is that not agriculture? It’s ridiculous. I haven’t been on the trainers committee for many years but I’m sure that would be a very clear-cut argument to make,” he added.

“The idea that racing is somehow like a restaurant, and you can get different waiters, or different people to clean and tidy, is not the case. There are jobs where you might be able to get suitably skilled people to fill in but it’s not on in racing.

“It’s difficult enough to get full-time employees with suitable riding skills, never mind finding people elsewhere to fill in.

“Horses have to be exercised at least six days a week. You can get away with a walk on a Sunday. But you can’t do it five days a week. That’s just not good enough. It’s not practical. People will do their best to comply but for most people they [the new work practises] are just not on,” Oxx argued.

In other news,  Killahara Castle, who created history with her shock 200-1 success at Thurles before Christmas, could attempt to upset the odds again at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Trainer John Burke has given Killahara Castle an entry in the Grade Three Solerina Mares Hurdle where her opposition could include the progressive Crackerdancer.

The latter made an impressive winning debut over flights at Limerick over Christmas. However it was Killahara Castle’s long-odds success prior to the festive period which captured more public attention.

She proved five lengths too good for the Willie Mullins-trained True Self in a Listed hurdle at Thurles and True Self is one of a handful of Mullins hopefuls still left in Saturday’s race.

 Sunday’s Naas feature is the €45,000 Grade Tow Woodlands Park 100 Club Novice Chase which has four Gordon Elliott hopefuls among the nine entries left in the race after Tuesday’s forfeit stage.

 They include Jury Duty, runner up to Shattered Love, in a Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas.

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