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Wednesday, June 9, 2004



NATIONAL TRAINERS FEDERATION REACTION TO STABLE AND STUD STAFF COMMISSION REPORT




The National Trainers Federation (NTF) has approached its response to the Stable and Stud Staff Commission Report in a positive and constructive spirit. Overall we believe the main thrust of the Commission's recommendations are helpful and recognise that they are intended as a means of modernising and improving the standards of employment in the racing industry to the ultimate benefit of the sport. We are pleased that some of the recommendations echo those suggested in various NTF documents.


We therefore regret we must point out that the report contains several cases of inaccuracy or misleading phraseology. The most important of these appear in the footnote below, as we do not wish them to deflect from the generally positive observations we have about the recommendations.


Easily the most striking statistic to emerge is that 88% of respondents to the staff survey indicated that their yards were "a good place to work". We would urge everyone who reads the report to keep that at the front of their minds as, without that fact, it would be easy to get a false impression of the overall state of employment in racing.


In the limited time that has been available to us to read the report, we make the following observations:

Recruitment

We welcome the Commission's recognition of the challenging environment - social, demographic and political - faced by the industry in meeting its recruitment needs. The NTF has always advocated strong communication of the essentially good message racing has to put out.


Training

We agree that there is a lack of a "learning culture" and that staff training is an essential tool to improve standards, motivation and therefore retention. We look forward to playing a part in and encouraging trainers to play a part in any new group that may be set up to optimise training provision in the industry. It is vital that more trainers are convinced that an appropriate training scheme can bring benefits to their business. In this respect, the concept of a "Skills Passport" would be an appealing innovation.


Employment and Retention

We welcome the acknowledgement that, taking the whole employment package into account, pay is "not as low as is sometimes claimed". Continual repetition of the low-pay fallacy can only harm the industry's recruitment initiatives.


We are concerned that the Commission appears to have misunderstood the role that the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) plays. By setting only minimum pay rates, the MoA not only allows the market to work but also allows trainers to reflect better skills in each employee's remuneration. Employers are in a much better position to do this than the institutions that currently negotiate pay.


No one is more aware of the fallibilities of the pension scheme than the NTF and trainers, who respectively administrate and fund it to the tune of £1million per annum. We welcome any proposals to improve the cost-effectiveness of pension provision.

The question of the level of contribution is one for negotiation. Taken together with the proposals on overtime, the word that springs most readily to mind with regard to increased contributions is "affordability". Trainers operate in a highly competitive environment where training fees are set according to owner demand. The cost implications of the suggested increases would need to become a matter for the whole industry to consider.


We are pleased that the Commission gives full weight to the value of staff accommodation. The NTF understands the difficulties racing's key workers have with affordable housing and has led the campaign for changes to relevant planning legislation.


The Commission reports that insufficient effort is made to communicate the full value of the employment package to staff. We are pleased to say that in the past six months the NTF, with the Stable Lads Association (SLA) and British Horseracing Board (BHB), has developed a New Employee Information Pack containing all the relevant details. This will be launched in the very near future.


Working Hours

Flexible working was the subject of a major NTF initiative in 2002/3 and consequently we support the Commission's remarks about changes to working patterns. It is especially important to realise that each yard needs to develop its own methods.


Recognition and Respect

Bullying and harassment is unacceptable whenever or wherever it occurs. The Commission admits that the reality is "difficult to assess" and we therefore find the use of uncorroborated quotations alleging various abuses unhelpful and inappropriate in a professional report.

Trainers have long been concerned at the poor quality of staff facilities at some racecourses. The NTF's policy is to support all efforts to improve these facilities and we will continue to do so within any suitable framework.


Accreditation

Accreditation schemes offer an opportunity and structure for employers to improve standards and the NTF supports any trainer who chooses to pursue an accreditation award. An industry scheme would have to pay careful attention to developing appropriate judging criteria.


Role of the NTF

The NTF has no difficulty accepting the roles recommended in the report, as they are effectively a continuation of what we already do.


Role of the SLA

It is up to the stable staff to decide how they wish to be represented. The NTF is only mandated to negotiate minimum terms of employment with the SLA so any change to the SLA's role would necessitate a review of the negotiating structure.


Conclusion

All in all, the Commission's work, as was the case with previous reports, represents a sound basis for continuing the improvements seen in recent years to employment conditions in racing.


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