The Labour Court recently ruled that training yards and stud operations are not classed as agriculture and so do not qualify for a derogation under the Working Time Act following compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) to top training yard Ballydoyle, Co Tipperary.
Ballydoyle is the base of multiple champion trainer and world record-holder Aidan O’Brien.
The ruling worried trainers and employers in the industry about the implications for their working practices, given the routines followed by stable staff.
The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has revealed that representations have been made to Minister Regina Doherty, from the horseracing and breeding industry and from “the Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, about concerns that exist in the industry, arising from the Labour Court ruling”.
Ms Doherty has asked the Attorney General, Seamus Woulfe, for advice. A spokeswoman for Mr Creed confirmed he has met with the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, to outline “his concerns”, following the Labour Curt ruling in the Ballydoyle/WRC case, “for the thoroughbred sector and, in particular, the potential impact on smaller trainers”.
He also met with Ms Doherty to raise “the same issues”, while officials in his department have met their counterparts in the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection to outline “the scale of the impact” on the industry.
“While appreciating the need to secure the health and welfare of staff, he set out the scale of the problem in the wider sector, which is already facing considerable pressures,” the spokeswoman said.
“There has been a large reduction in the number of smaller trainers in recent years; trainers are already having difficulty sourcing labour and they are facing potential new challenges, in the form of Brexit.”
The WRC compliance notices, unsuccessfully appealed to the Labour Court by Ballydoyle, followed an inspection last May, which found a failure to grant a daily rest period of 11 hours to three named employees, and a failure to grant three employees rest periods of 24 consecutive hours in four consecutive weeks.
Ballydoyle argued that they were entitled to an exemption, under the agriculture category, but this was disputed by the WRC and rejected by the Labour Court.
The owners of Ballydoyle, who also run the world-leading Coolmore breeding operation, have appealed the Labour Court decision and the case is expected to come before the Circuit Court next month.
The Working Time Directive sets down limits on the amount of time that employees can work without rests. It provides for derogations and exemptions, conditional on workers being granted “equivalent compensatory rest,” with the “agriculture” sector allowed to benefit from these exemptions.
The Labour Court found in its ruling on the Ballydoyle case, taken by the Employment Relations Commission, that the derogations do not apply to employees in the horseracing business.