Musselburgh strike action likely as meetings break up in acrimony
Strike action by staff at Musselburgh looks increasingly likely as meetings between racing figures and representatives of the local council ended in stalemate and acrimony on Tuesday.
East Lothian Council has been accused of carrying out a coup to take overall control of the running of the racecourse by opponents.
Last month the council announced it was replacing the Musselburgh Joint Racing Committee (MJRC) – made up of four councillors and three members of the Lothian Racing Syndicate (LRS) – with a six-member Musselburgh Racing Associated Committee, which would have only two people representing racing interests.
The council said it was following the recommendations of the independent governance review, demanded by the BHA before it granted a temporary licence which is in place until April 7, and would secure the track's future. All MJRC employees would be transferred to the council payroll.
However, the GMB union representing staff at Musselburgh has threatened industrial action if the council proceeds with its plans.
The LRS had met with council officials 11 days previously and had hoped its proposals that Musselburgh's staff need not become council employees and that a tender be put out for a third party to run the racecourse had gained traction.
'Very unpleasant and unproductive'
However, those hopes were dashed following a 90-minute meeting on Musselburgh's governance on Tuesday as council representatives said they were determined to continue with their plans, while a meeting of the MJRC that followed immediately afterwards broke up when LRS member Raymond Anderson Green was asked to leave by acting chair councillor Fiona O'Donnell – who had objected to being accused of bias – and his fellow LRS members left with him.
LRS chairman John Prideaux described the meetings as "very, very unpleasant and unproductive".
He said: "Any softening of the council's position which we thought we detected a week last Friday did not actually materialise.
"Instead they are determined that the decision the council took back in February, to form an associate committee of the council and have the staff become council employees, is the only solution they are prepared to entertain."
Prideaux said O'Donnell was due to meet with Musselburgh's staff on Friday.
'Staff are very unhappy'
He added: "The staff are very unhappy, they don't trust the council. They have been treated very badly by councillors for the past five or six years and once they are aware of the decision taken by the council they will hold a ballot with a view to taking industrial action on the first raceday after this committee is formed.
"The staff are taking this action simply because they do not believe the solution is in the best interests of Musselburgh racecourse or indeed the best interests of the racing industry."
Prideaux said the LRS would be making a submission to the BHA, which is due to meet next month to discuss developments at Musselburgh.
He added: "We're of the opinion at this stage of the game that ELC's behaviour is unlikely to persuade the BHA to extend the temporary licence, especially when you consider the action that the staff will take.
"The LRS is trying to do its best for the racecourse, for the industry and for the staff."
In response, a council spokesperson said: "Following the independent governance review required by the BHA, the council’s focus is on making the required changes to secure the future of racing at Musselburgh.
"Elected members have unanimously agreed to implement the independent review’s option of operating the racecourse as a newly- formed/compliant associated committee, initially on an interim basis. A report will be presented to a future council meeting, assessing all the options identified by the independent governance review."
They added: "There was a meeting today that was intended to allow the parties to continue to work constructively together. Unfortunately while discussing racecourse business the LRS chose to walk out of the meeting, preventing the business being concluded.
"Additionally the council already planned to meet with staff on Friday and is committed to providing the staff with further information on the proposed arrangements going forward. This meeting shall continue as scheduled."
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