Stable Staff: How do European governments classify and enforce racing's workforce?

  Stable staff - how do European governments classify and enforce racing's workforce?       Just over a year ago, in February 2017, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) served four Compliance Notices on Ballydoyle, the training establishment owned by Coolmore. Irish trainers held their breath as the result of an appeal by Ballydoyle was anxiously awaited. That appeal was rejected in January of this year and will result in major repercussions for the industry.    The WRC was established in October 2015 under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and replaced the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission, and the Director of the Equality Tribunal. During an inspection of Ballydoyle in May 2016, WRC inspectors identified breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act, involving failure to provide sufficient breaks and rest periods for five grooms and exercise riders.    This situation arose from what many would argue to be the unnecessary February 2015 Irish Amendment of the 1976 Industrial Relations Act, which was amended to exclude the rearing and training of racehorses from being recognised as agricultural labour. Interestingly, stud farms and their staff are not affected by this ruling, as horse breeding is still considered to be an agricultural activity.    The amendment made was not required by European law, but individual nation states are free to make such exemptions within their own legal system as they deem necessary. Therefore, since February 2015, Irish racehorse training yards do not qualify for the same working hours exemptions that have been agreed in agricultural workplaces, as defined by industrial relations law.    The 2015 Amendment was not widely publicised and escaped the attention of most trainers, but the WRC targets two industries each year for inspections, and the equine industry was among those specifically targeted for 2017, with around 60 inspections carried out.    Why Ireland’s racing staff are not agricultural workers    During the Labour Court hearing, WRC Inspector Pat Phelan used the 2015 Industrial Relations Act Amendment to explain why Ireland’s grooms and work riders cannot be classified as agricultural workers. He pointed out the amendment defines agriculture as “raising animals or crops for human consumption.” Labour Court deputy chairman Alan Haugh cited three dictionary definitions of “agriculture.”    The current Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as “the science or practice of farming, including cultivation of the soil for the growing of crops and the rearing of animals to provide food, wool, and other products”; the Collins English Dictionary defines it as “farming and the methods that are used to raise and look after crops and animals”; and Webster’s Dictionary as “the science, art, or practice of cultivating the soil, producing crops, and raising livestock and in varying degrees the preparation and marketing of the resulting products,” or, “cleared the land to use it for agriculture.” Though this clearly covers stud farms, as has happened in Ireland, the case for including racehorses in training appears indistinct.    The Irish Racehorse Trainers’ Association is currently in discussion with Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), and unless the current situation is resolved many training yards could be forced to close. The staffing situation, as is the case throughout Europe, is already critical, and the inability to organise staff working hours around the needs of the horses in their care will simply exacerbate matters.    As trainer Dermot Weld said of the Labour Court decision, “It's very important this situation is sorted out as quickly as possible. The change in categorisation from the agriculture sector could have widespread and serious consequences across the industry unless action is taken very swiftly to remedy the situation. Whether it's a question of going back into the agriculture category, or getting a separate category to take into account the specific nature of how stables need to operate, the authorities really have to find a new way to go forward. And quickly.”    HRI's chief executive, Brian Kavanagh, also described flexibility with regard to racing staff working hours as essential. “Any decision or suggestion racing is not part of the agriculture sector is very worrying indeed, it could be very troublesome if something like this were to become permanent,” he said. “Working in racing isn't a Monday-to-Friday, nine-to-five job. It can be seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Flexibility is needed. Sectors like agriculture, hospitality, and transport have to have flexibility to operate and manage the workload. We’ve been working with the WRC and engaging with the relevant authorities to come up with the best practice possible, where the welfare of staff is taken into account, and that work is coming to a conclusion soon.”    The minister for employment affairs and social protection, Regina Doherty TD, has sought advice from Attorney General Séamus Woulfe and is seeking his view on the possibility of providing exemptions from the Organisation of Working Time Act for racing staff within the exemptions permitted under the Working Time Directive. Michael Creed TD, the agriculture minister, is also aware of the concerns and implications for the industry.    How does this affect other European trainers?    So far, the Irish Labour Court ruling has had no implication on the rest of Europe, where flexibility of working hours is still acceptable. However, the freedom to amend the Organisation of Working Time Act by individual member states remains a worrying issue. Currently, member states can lay down their own measures as to how obligatory rest periods are taken by staff, but at any point exemptions could be imposed, and the lesson from Ireland is that such an amendment may not be made widely known in advance, with no opportunity to argue the case by the industry.    Although the EU directive lays out certain guidelines that must be adhered to, flexibility is allowed for by the manner in which the directive is written into the individual legislation of each member state. Therefore, rest breaks may be unnecessary where a working day is split in periods throughout the day, such as working mornings and evenings, as is regularly the case in racing yards. Travel time to and from the races can be exempted from working hours, too, such as in France where it is paid on a fixed-fee basis.    In Germany, the Direktorium for Breeding and Racing points out that German racing comes under the Ministry for Agriculture and Environment, and racing staff in Germany must work to German Labour Law. In France, the working week is 35 hours, but staff can agree to a 39-hour week if it is written into the contract.    Nick Elsass of the Danish Jockey Club explains that Danish racing is not regulated in its own right but is part of an umbrella Working Act, which is a 37-hour per week agreement. “The Danish system is rather flexible, so the employers and employees can agree to working hours, pay, holidays, etc., within the umbrella,” he says. “It is the unions, the CBI, and Parliament who oversee procedures and the Ministry for Labour who check the practicalities. Working in racing is ‘just another workplace.’”    Racing may be just another workplace, but it is already faced by staff shortages, not helped by low unemployment figures. One successful trainer in France has been seeking just one work rider for the past three months, without success, which is a problem reiterated by trainers everywhere. The population in general is become more urbanised, with fewer people connected to rural activities, and employing more staff, to compensate for decreased working hours, is not a viable option. It must be hoped that the awareness and support of government ministers will rectify the threatening situation in Ireland.

EUROPEAN EDITION - ISSUE 61 - APRIL TO JUNE 2018

By Lissa Oliver

Just over a year ago, in February 2017, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) served four Compliance Notices on Ballydoyle, the training establishment owned by Coolmore. Irish trainers held their breath as the result of an appeal by Ballydoyle was anxiously awaited. That appeal was rejected in January of this year and will result in major repercussions for the industry.

The WRC was established in October 2015 under the Workplace Relations Act 2015 and replaced the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Relations Commission, and the Director of the Equality Tribunal. During an inspection of Ballydoyle in May 2016, WRC inspectors identified breaches of the Organisation of Working Time Act, involving failure to provide sufficient breaks and rest periods for five grooms and exercise riders.

This situation arose from what many would argue to be the unnecessary February 2015 Irish Amendment of the 1976 Industrial Relations Act, which was amended to exclude the rearing and training of racehorses from being recognised as agricultural labour. Interestingly, stud farms and their staff are not affected by this ruling, as horse breeding is still considered to be an agricultural activity.

The amendment made was not required by European law, but individual nation states are free to make such exemptions within their own legal system as they deem necessary. Therefore, since February 2015, Irish racehorse training yards do not qualify for the same working hours exemptions that have been agreed in agricultural workplaces, as defined by industrial relations law.

The 2015 Amendment was not widely publicised and escaped the attention of most trainers, but the WRC targets two industries each year for inspections, and the equine industry was among those specifically targeted for 2017, with around 60 inspections carried out.

Why Ireland’s racing staff are not agricultural workers...

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