Significant progress has been made following the latest “highly-constructive talks” with the key players in the ongoing stalls dispute in the UK.
Ian Renton of Arena Leisure, John Blake of the Jockeys’ Association and Mick Both of RaceTech emerged from this morning’s meeting confident there may finally be light at the end of the tunnel.
Arena, who manage seven racecourses, broke ranks with the rest of British racing last month when they decided to employ their own stalls handlers at the group’s three all-weather tracks in a bid to cut costs.
And although the new stalls team had an uneventful start at Wolverhampton on Monday – despite the well-publicised boycott by senior jockeys – the controversy has yet to subside amid lingering concerns over jockeys’ safety and the future of RaceTech’s handlers.
However, Renton insists the three parties are closer to reaching an amicable resolution and revealed that Arena are now looking into recruiting RaceTech employees during the winter months.
“Following our discussions this morning, I am pleased to say that after highly-constructive talks, significant progress has been made,” said Renton, Arena’s racing director.
“Arena are committed to working to maintain the expertise of the current workforce of stalls handlers and will welcome approaches to discuss employment opportunities during the winter months.
“We will be working closely with all parties to try to ensure the employment packages on offer from both RaceTech and Arena are sufficient to encourage the retention of the experienced stalls handlers within the racing industry.”
Blake also expressed his satisfaction with the outcome of today’s meeting and is confident Arena will be able to provide RaceTech’s stalls team with employment opportunities in the future.
“There was never going to be a ‘signing on the dotted line’ today but I was encouraged,” said the chief executive of the Jockeys’ Association.
“I was given a clear affirmative that RaceTech wish to maintain their commitment to stalls handling for next year and beyond.
“With that, I was encouraged they were prepared to offer attractive terms to their staff and casuals to make sure they can fulfil their ambition of staying in business.
“I was also heartened by Ian Renton’s comments that, if possible, they (Arena) would look to utilise RaceTech’s strengths in the winter months, which we would obviously be very supportive of.
“As a sport we are united in wishing the employment of these key personnel whom we simply cannot do without next year.”
While progress is being made in finding some common ground to end the dispute, Blake refused to rule out the possibility of a further jockeys’ boycott this season.
He added: “I’m not in a position to say that wouldn’t be the case but I would say we’ve made some positive moves in what has become a difficult and very fragmented situation.
“There isn’t a magic wand to wave over the issue but from our point of view, the safety and potential losses of RaceTech employees are still the major issues.
“It’s very much a positive work in progress which involves compromise on all parts.”
Mick Both felt the prospect of employment for the RaceTech handlers over the winter was one of most positive aspects of today’s meeting.
“It is good that all parties acknowledge the importance of our stalls handlers and that they are an integral part of racing in this country,” said Both, RaceTech’s director of engineering and technical operations.
“As from November to March, there is no employment for our handlers as Arena are doing there own thing.
“It has come as something of a relief to learn that the company have given a firm indication they will look favourably on applications from our employees.
“This will surely benefit the industry – and also for those workers whom see racing as a way of life.”