The Labour Court in Dublin has dismissed an appeal by Ballydoyle Racing against compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) over failure to give grooms and exercise riders rest periods to which they were legally entitled.
The ruling, which confirms the removal of agricultural-worker status from racing stable staff, has serious implications for the industry throughout Ireland.
During an inspection in May 2016, a WRC inspector found a number of breaches of the Organisation Working Time Act involving failure to provide sufficient breaks and rest periods for five grooms and exercise riders.
Early last year four compliance notices were issued against the employer in respect of those breaches.
As part of an appeal at which trainer Aidan O'Brien gave evidence, Ballydoyle Racing argued it was exempt from provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act because its staff were engaged in agricultural activities.
Ballydoyle also contended that its training activities were carried out in conjunction with the activities of Coolmore Stud Farm, which has the same ultimate owners but is a separate legal entity.
Ballydoyle also argued 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.
The WRC and Ballydoyle disagreed on the definition of 'agriculture', with Ballydoyle contending it was entitled to an exemption under a broader definition of the word. However, the WRC argued Ballydoyle is not an agricultural operation under the common definition.
In the ruling, Labour Court deputy chairman Alan Haugh cited three dictionary definitions of 'agriculture' and ruled that the Ballydoyle Racing operation fell outside those definitions.
The court rejected Ballydoyle's contention 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.
It is expected Ballydoyle will further appeal against the Labour Court ruling in the High Court.
The WRC said it noted the outcome of the case and that it was working with the industry to increase awareness and compliance and would launch an employer guide this month.