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Top Northern trainer unaware of life assurance for stable staff

‘I never heard tell of it. I’ve had no information from the Turf Club’ – Ian Ferguson

The Turf Club’s chief executive Denis Egan said 60 ‘A’ card holders in the North have been covered for death benefit since 2012. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

One of Northern Ireland’s leading trainers insists he had never known about stable staff in the north being covered for life assurance since 2012.

There appears to be widespread confusion within racing in relation to Turf Club confirmation on Monday that 60 full-time stable staff in the north were added to the death benefit element of the industry’s old pension scheme which was wound up in 2010.

In 2012 the scheme’s management committee were told by Irish Life that they saw no problem with adding employees in the North to the death benefit element of the fund. The Turf Club’s chief executive Denis Egan said that 60 ‘A’ card holders in the north were subsequently covered that year.

Trainers in the north have been unhappy for some time over employees there never receiving pension benefits under the old scheme despite paying into it on the same basis of deductions from trainers’ prizemoney as colleagues in the Republic.

The fact the North is a different jurisdiction had been referred to as the reason for that discrepancy despite racing being administered on a 32-county basis. But the move on life assurance has come as news to many within racing in the north.

“I never heard tell of it. I’ve had no information from the Turf Club, the trainers’ association, no letter, email or text that we had availability of this at all,” said the Cheltenham festival-winning trainer Ian Ferguson on Tuesday.

“I certainly have no recollection of ever having any correspondence about it. I simply wasn’t aware of it,” added the Co Antrim-based trainer who queried why such cover wasn’t available prior to 2012, and why pension benefits under the old scheme were never applicable in the north.

Ferguson is just one of a number of North or Ireland trainers who maintain they didn’t know of the change which occurred five years ago.    

One of Ferguson’s colleagues, Co Tyrone-based Mervyn Torrens, has described as “discrimination” how pension benefits didn’t apply in the North although stable staff there will be part of a new scheme currently being set up. A road-show on that scheme is due to take place in Newry on Thursday.      

“We’ve said this from the word-go; why weren’t we entitled to them all the time. I’m still subscribing to it, okay I’ve less runners now, but that doesn’t matter. I still hold a trainer’s licence and I’m entitled to whatever benefits are going,” Ferguson added.

Caught unawares

The Turf Club’s confirmation on life assurance wasn’t just news in the North. Even the chairman of the Irish Stable Staff Association said on Tuesday he believed employees in the North of Ireland had always had been covered for death benefit.

The ISSA had been represented on the old scheme’s management committee along with representatives from the Turf Club and the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association.

However Bernard Caldwell said no stable staff in the North had contacted the ISSA about the matter and instead pointed the finger at trainers if they had been caught unawares by the move on life assurance.

“They [trainers] get the same information from the Turf Club everyone gets; they get the [racing] calendar and that information over the years has been on the calendar. If they don’t know, that’s not my fault,” he said.

Caldwell added: “They have a responsibility to make sure staff are properly looked after. They employ staff, they should know. They have a duty of care.”

He also said he was concentrating his efforts on the new pension scheme in which the ISSA is also represented on the new committee.

“Our job is to defend stable staff. Trainers are giving out but we’re getting no complaints from stable staff in the north. A few trainers in the North are taking a funny attitude to this but we’re trying to get on with the new one.

“The whole aim is to set up the new scheme for everybody and I only hope trainers in the North co-operate and make sure staff are properly treated,” added Caldwell.