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Staff shortages: modern working practices the key; LETTERS Racing Post, The Capel Building, Mary's Abbey, Dublin 7 Email

I WRITE in response to Richard Hughes's column in the Racing Post on Saturday.

While I agree with Richard when he states racing is facing a staffing problem that is now critical, I do not believe it is the responsibility of the BHA to lobby the government to solve the problem.

Racing has issues over recruiting and retaining staff, but it is not owing to the government or the BHA, it is because the majority of trainers do not understand what today's workforce expects nor recognise how uncompetitive they are in the broader context of what any prospective employee expects from their job. Richard and I are from racing families, but there are not enough of us to staff the demands of British racing, so any prospective employer has to be able to compete with every other industry looking for staff.

Today's workforce will simply not accept having to work 121/2 continuous days (13 mornings in a row) without a break -with an average start of 6am - nor will they accept one clear day off a fortnight, and yet that is what racing expects. It is not even close to competitive in today's employment market.

The National Association of Racing Staff has recognised this for a number of years and has put it to the National Trainers Federation (in our National Joint Council) in both 2016 and 2017 to reduce the demands on racing staff by introducing a 40-hour week. The NTF board rejected this on both occasions.

I am not suggesting racing becomes a nine-to-five employer and I understand a job in racing looking after horses will always be demanding. However, the 40-hour week could be introduced to suit every trainer, big or small - you just rota your staff like every other industry that works 24/7/52.

In fact, trainers do it every Saturday - the busiest day for racing - and every Sunday, so the logic of those who say they do not have enough staff to introduce such a rota is simply flawed.

When John Gosden first came to Britain he was paying considerably more than any of his competitors and within a short time had attracted the best staff. I dare say the same would happen to the first trainer who employs competitive, modern working practices for those in the sport.

As someone who has spent 26 years working for trainers, I can vouch for the joys a job in racing can bring. An opportunity to travel Britain and the world while getting paid is not in many job descriptions, nor is the excitement of riding a thoroughbred racehorse.

However, you cannot bring that to your local supermarket and use it against your weekly shopping bill, and nor does it pay your car tax and insurance and it certainly does not go towards childcare. But, most tellingly, a job in racing does not allow for any quality time with family or friends.

Whatever trainers may think about a 40-hour week, what we all agree on is the fact we cannot carry on as we are. The staff currently working in racing are stretched to breaking point and, as Richard has alluded to, the connection between the grooms and their horses - one of the more positive aspects of a job in racing - is slowly being eroded.

The BHA did not make this problem, nor did the government and it should not be down to them to solve it. The answer is in introducing modern working practices and a work-life balance, and it is within the trainers' grasp - it does not lie in Asia!

George McGrath Chief executive National Association of Racing Staff

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Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 29, 2018
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