Britain's stable staff chief to meet Australian authorities about welfare issues
There is to be a renewed push for stable staff in Australia to be rewarded with a guaranteed percentage of prize-money won.
Racing Victoria (RV) will host a meeting on Thursday with a number of interested parties including George McGrath, a UK representative of the National Association of Racing Staff, who will stress to Victorian racing officials the need to properly look after track staff.
McGrath told Racing.com on Tuesday that staff in the UK and Australia shared a number of issues and that staff in Australia could expect more support.
"We represent all of the staff working in Great British racing," he said. "We have currently 6,734 members and our job is basically to enhance and improve the economic and social conditions of all of our members.
"First and foremost, we [UK racing] have had a campaign around respect for staff – just giving the strappers and track workers recognition when horses won Group 1 races or indeed, any races," McGrath said.
"Second, there’s the economic aspect. We’ve improved wages by 20 per cent in the last five years and that’s against an economic downturn.
"We address the work-life balance because that’s probably the most important thing. It can be a great job but it can be very physically and mentally draining and we’re trying to address that currently in the UK."
McGrath said he had been most impressed with how he had been received by racing officials but said Australian racing can start to improve the lot of stable staff with a mere stroke of a pen.
"I think the primary difference is that stable staff get a percentage of the prize money," he said. "So, In the UK, we have something called pool money. It’s five per cent of anything that a particular yard wins regardless of where that race is won within the country and even aboard.
"We’re not wanting to frighten trainers and everybody else in Australian racing but five per cent is what we work on in the UK.
"But having spoken to people and organisations over here in Australia, five per cent is probably not achievable anywhere in the near future but what they do currently have is a one per cent prize money reduction for equine welfare.
"If you do have that – and it is right and proper to have a reduction for equine welfare – surely to goodness you can have a one per cent reduction for staff welfare.
"That is a gaping commission at the moment and something I’d like to see addressed in the near future."
Two per cent is currently taken out of prize money in Victoria and New South Wales for equine and jockey welfare.
McGrath said currently in Australia, the Australian Worker’s Union is the representative of track staff but he said few staff in this country are aligned with the union.
"The AWU is the union for racing staff but I believe the percentage number of members is anywhere between two and five per cent so you’ve got 95 per cent of track rider and strappers with no representation at all," he said.
"That’s not to say the AWU doesn’t have a place at the table. They certainly have. They are certainly very good at wages and negotiations in that respect.
"The difficult I identify here is that the AWU will be representing all track riders without understanding there are different levels of skills between the newest employees and somebody of maybe 20 or 30 years of experience. They are pretty much lumped in as one in terms of a wage negotiation."
McGrath said that after Thursday’s meeting with RV, he would return to the UK but added his new colleagues in Australia – Helen Grundy and Rob Gardner – would continue pushing the case for stable staff when he leaves.
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