Stable staff chief defends provocative quiz and calls for action from trainers
The head of the stable staff union has defended his decision to publish a provocative quiz highlighting cases of poor employment practices and has called on the National Trainers Federation (NTF) to “get its house in order” and help expel the worst offenders from racing.
George McGrath, chief executive of the National Association of Racing Staff (Nars), insisted most trainers were model employers but that he had been pushed into using what he described as a "spoof" quiz to showcase some of the serious issues his organisation faces and on which he believes the NTF has failed to properly engage its members.
Among the questions is one that alleges a trainer was arrested for assaulting a female member of staff. There are others on sex discrimination, pay and working conditions.
The article, titled ‘The Nars 12 days of Christmas quiz’, was published on the back page of the union’s bi-annual newsletter, which was sent to approximately 7,000 members around Christmas and was highlighted over the weekend by trainer Jamie Osborne on social media.
It is a sad day for our valued stable staff when their representative sees fit to publish this. If it was an attempt at humour it failed. If it was an attempt to further relationships it failed. If it was an attempt to misrepresent the industry then it has succeeded. pic.twitter.com/892alUzaBR— jamie osborne (@osbornejamie) January 4, 2020
While clearly indicating it is a spoof, the article states the questions, which ask members to name the trainer or trainers engaged in bad practices, are based on real scenarios Nars has dealt with over the past 12 months.
Allegations against trainers include failure to give staff holidays, non or unequal distribution of pool money, refusal to offer sick pay and discrimination against female members of staff in terms of pay and working conditions compared to male staff.
The Nars 12 days of Christmas quiz
1 Name the trainer that thinks part time staff do not have the right to holidays? There is more than one correct answer to this question.
2 Name the trainer that thinks part time members of staff are not entitled to receive pool money?
3 Name the trainer who believes he is above the law by refusing to pay for work completed?
4 Name the trainer who thinks he can refuse to pay his staff because he doesn't agree with their lifestyle?
5 Name the trainer who keeps the best turned out money to pay for diesel in the horsebox?
6 Name the trainer who does not believe he has to abide by a doctor's note and told the member to return to work (member broke their hand)?
7 Name the trainer who paid his staff £120 per week for working eight hour mornings six days a week?
8 Name the trainer whose secretary gets four times the pool money that the staff receive?
9 Name the trainer who refused to carry out a risk assessment on a pregnant member of staff (legally required)?
10 Name the trainer who refuses to pay sick pay?
11 Name the trainer that pays his female riders less than the male counterparts with similar ability?
12 Name the trainer who was arrested for assaulting a female member of staff?
McGrath said: “It was done to display some of the issues we’re up against and what staff are having to deal with. I’d be at pains to state this is probably ten per cent of the industry. We’re talking about a couple of dozen trainers who, in my opinion, ought to have their licences seriously reviewed.
“One of the reasons I went ahead and put this on the back page – and there was a lot of debate about this in the office as to whether this was a good move or not – is because a lot [of stable staff] don’t realise exactly what it is we do and how we operate because most of it is done in confidence.
“None of those things are made up. These are, as it says, an extract of what we deal with. It doesn’t identify either the Nars member or employer in each question, but we did speak to individuals and say ‘we would like to highlight this in our newsletter, are you comfortable with that?’ and most said ‘yes, and you can put my name and the employer’s name in there too’, which I chose not to do.”
The most serious allegation put forward came in the last question, which reads: ‘Name the trainer who was arrested for assaulting a female member of staff?’ and McGrath said: “That particular case involved the police and the BHA.
“That chap who assaulted a member of staff – and there is a police record of that – the BHA are aware of it, so why is this guy training horses?”
Osborne elaborated further to the Racing Post on Sunday on his objection to the manner in which the allegations were publicised, expressing his annoyance at the trivialisation of what he described as "serious allegations against racehorse trainers".
The NTF also strongly criticised the article, saying Nars seemed to be “determined to undermine” the relationship between the two groups.
However, McGrath said he hoped the opposite would be the case and that publicising some of the worst cases would spur the NTF and its members into action.
He said: “It’s a source of frustration to me that if the NTF put their house in order then I wouldn’t have to deal with those things. The NTF is aware of some of these issues we have to deal with because we try to deal with the NTF when we’re getting no traction with the actual employer.
“They’re also pretty annoyed at what they’ve read and I’ve had a text exchange with [NTF chief executive] Rupert Arnold, who said it’s provocative and unhelpful, and from his position it probably is. But these aren’t things we’ve made up, these are things we deal with.”
He added: “You might not think this is the best way to go about it, but I would like to see us form closer links with the NTF to have them and Nars working closer together. It will be easier if we can work together and, by and large, the NTF are very receptive, but we still have a number of ongoing issues.”
The Racing Post understands the BHA is aware of the Nars quiz and is set to discuss the issues raised in it, and by the NTF, on Monday before commenting.
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