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- Developments

- Developments


On Thursday 20th December 2018, Regina Doherty, Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection signed The European Communities (Organisation of Working Time) (General Exemptions) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (the ‘Regulations’) into law. These Regulations alter the  amendment made to the definition of “agriculture workers” in the Industrial Relations Act 2015 which had excluded for the first time the activity of “training of animals”. However, this alteration only applies to the training of racehorses and not to the training of any other animal.

The importance of the definition of “agriculture” or an “agriculture workers” is that employers of agricultural workers are among one of the industries which are allowed to avail of  conditional exemptions from the strict compliance with the mandatory daily and weekly rest breaks at work and night time hours as set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 (the “1997 Act”).

However, in order to avail of an exemption to the 1997 Act the following criteria must be met to ensure the protection of the employee’s health and safety and avoid abuse of the exemption:

It should be noted that very shortly after the initial and discreet amendment to the definition of “agricultural worker” in the Industrial Relations Act in October 2015, the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) carried out an inspection of the Aidan O’Brien trained Ballydoyle Stables.  This ensured that Ballydoyle did not have the opportunity to not only become aware of the amendment but to make the necessary amendments required by the loss of the flexibility provided by the agricultural exemption. In May 2016 the WRC inspectors found that some work riders and grooms had worked 19 hours in a day in breach of the 1997 Act.  Ballydoyle argued that it should be entitled to the agriculture exemption to which it had complied. The Labour Court disagreed and to the relief of the entire horseracing industry, Ballydoyle appealed this decision to the District Court.

If the new Regulations were not introduced then it could have been the end for the majority of horseracing training stables in Ireland. Horseracing training, like other agriculture activities, cannot be restrained into set hours on set days particularly as racing occurs at the weekend in addition to weekdays. Furthermore, such races may involve travelling long distances including abroad, the horses must be fed, exercised and looked after every single day and dealing with live animals does not facilitate strict compliance with the 1997 Act set breaks.  The Labour Court suggested assigning two staff members to every horse as a way of complying with the 1997 Act but no stables could afford such an excess level of staff. Furthermore, it made no sense when there are sufficient periods which allow employees to avail of compensatory rest periods and breaks in line with health and safety requirements.

The horse racing industry is worth over €1.8 Billion to the Irish Economy and the impact of the amendment in 2015, which was only highlighted by the Ballydoyle inspection, would have had a drastic impact on this industry.
The Regulations were introduced in time for the Christmas race meetings and shortly after Ballydolye dropped its District Court appeal. However, the key to ensuring that employers may benefit from the above exemptions is to keep records of compliance with the conditions.  

Thankfully, the WRC is working with, rather than against, the Horse Racing Ireland (“HRI”) to draw up guidance for employers in the sector. The Minister has written to both the WRC and HRI urging them to bring a conclusion to the joint guidance. When published, this guidance is hoped to give more clarity in respect of the level of flexibility to employers in the sector while at the same time improving the awareness of employees’ rights to sufficient rest breaks and other rights under Irish employment law.

31th January 2019

Anne O’Connell
Fitzwilliam Hall
Fitzwilliam Place
Dublin 2

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