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Golden Dale Trading as Ballydoyle Racing v Workplace Relations Commission

Labour Court Appeal Reference CNN181

The Ballydoyle racehorse training operation has appealed a Labour Court ruling regarding excessive working hours for stable staff. On 5th January 2018, the Labour Court dismissed a Ballydoyle appeal against compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission (“WRC”) over the failure to provide grooms and exercise riders with legal rest periods under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

During the appeal hearing, evidence was given of stable staff working up to 19 hours a day without adequate compensatory rest periods, with others working up to 28 days in a row. Ballydoyle submitted that it was exempt from the strict provisions of the Act because it was involved in an agricultural activity. However, a 2015 amendment to the Industrial Relations Act resulted in the training of animals being removed from the definition of “agriculture” and thereby removing the racing industry. The WRC Inspectors have interpreted this amendment as not entitling the horse training yards to working hour exemptions under the Organisation of Working Time Act. The amendment to the definition of “agriculture” was introduced under the radar and the trainers were not notified of such a change.

Within less than a year from the implementation of the amended definition, in May 2016, the WRC carried out an inspection at Ballydoyle and found the employees to be in breach of the law. The Labour Court rejected Ballydoyle’s view that it was entitled to the derogation from providing statutory rest periods for agricultural activities under the Organisation of Working Time Act, and allowed the WRC compliance notices to stand. However, it is interesting to note that the Labour Court did not take the definition of “agriculture” as that contained in the Industrial Relations Amendment Act 2015 but rather took the ordinary dictionary meaning of the word and refused to acknowledge racehorse training as being part of “animal husbandry” which forms part of the definition of “agriculture. This was regardless of the numerous witnesses presented by Ballydoyle in respect of how the performance of a racehorse informs the breeding industry from a number of respects.

Ballydoyle further argued that rest breaks were not always possible because highly strung thoroughbreds needed to have the same groom and exercise rider rather than a variety of staff looking after them for shorter periods from a health and safety reason.
The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation recently confirmed that Ballydoyle has appealed the Labour Court ruling to the Circuit Court. The Department will not take enforcement action against Ballydoyle until the appeal is decided.
Should the Circuit Court re-affirm the Labour Court decision, failure by an employer to obey the decision may amount to a criminal offence. The employers could find themselves forced to hire additional staff to cover the mandatory rest breaks in compliance with working time legislation, at a time when there is a staff shortage in the sector. This would be crippling to the racing industry and could lead to the closure of other smaller training yard which are unable to afford to hire additional staff that the Labour Court are demanding. In addition, stable staff could suffer loss of earnings by being forced to work fewer hours.

Horse Racing Ireland’s Chief Executive Brian Kavanagh commented his concerns:
“I’d be greatly concerned at any determination that racing is not an agricultural activity. Racing has always been part of the agricultural sector. We answer to the Department of Agriculture. It sustains lots of jobs in rural areas. It’s all about husbandry and care.”

Following the Labour Court ruling, a meeting was held with the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, the Irish Stable Staff Association and representatives of Horse Racing Ireland to discuss the implications of the ruling for the industry. The CEO of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, Michael Grassick, stated that they explored a number of options to bring employers and employees into compliance with the law on working time and rest periods.

One option could involve registering a legally binding employment agreement with the Labour Court to cover the racehorse industry specifically, rather than the entire agriculture sector. However, it is hard to see how any such agreement would not include wage increases and compensatory rest breaks which will have an implication on the small yards. It is hoped that the WRC Inspectors will give the Industry and trainers time to implement a solution before issuing further Compliance Notices against other trainers.

It is understood that the industry plans to liaise with the WRC and the Labour Court on the best way to manage the situation, and is also considering hiring professional human resources specialists to advise them. Let’s hope that progress is made on this without delay as the Horseracing Industry is such an important part of Ireland’s economy.

For any queries, please contact Anne O’Connell Solicitors at info@aocsolicitor.ie or +353 1 2903580
5th February 2018

Anne O’Connell
1-3 Burton Hall Road
Dublin 18

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