The Labour Court has dismissed an appeal by racehorse trainers Ballydoyle against compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) over failure to give grooms and exercise riders legal rest periods.
During an inspection in May 2016, a WRC inspector found a number of breaches of the Organisation Working Time Act involving failure to provide sufficient breaks and rest periods for five grooms and exercise riders.
Last February the inspector issued four compliance notices against the employer in respect of those breaches.
However, Golden Dale - a company which trades as Ballydoyle Racing - argued that it was exempt from provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act because its staff were engaged in agricultural activities.
Ballydoyle also contended that its training activities were part of an agricultural "continuum" with the activities of the Coolmore Stud Farm, which have the same ultimate owners but are separate legal entities.
In addition, it argued that rest breaks were not always possible because highly strung thoroughbred horses needed to have the same groom and exercise rider, rather than a variety of staff looking after them for shorter periods.
The compliance notices were only issued against Ballydoyle - not Coolmore. Ballydoyle went on to appeal them to the Labour Court.
The compliance notices alleged that there had been a failure to grant a daily rest period of 11 hours to three named employees, and a failure to grant three named employees weekly rest periods of 24 consecutive hours in each of four consecutive weeks in May 2016.
Ballydoyle is also alleged to have failed to grant two rest periods of at least 24 hours each following a week in which they had not received a single weekly rest period of 24 consecutive hours.
The WRC compliance notices also claimed that Ballydoyle had failed to grant four named employees a weekly rest period that includes Sunday in any of four specified weeks in May 2016.
According to the Labour Court recommendation, Ballydoyle admitted that the breaches would have occurred but for the fact that they were exempt from the relevant provisions because of their involvement in agricultural activity.
Both the WRC and Ballydoyle had strongly disputed the definition of "agriculture", with Ballydoyle arguing that they were entitled to an exemption under a broad definition, but the WRC contending that Ballydoyle was not an agricultural operation under the common definition.
In the ruling, Labour Court Deputy Chairman Alan Haugh cited three dictionary definitions of "agriculture" and ruled that the Ballydoyle Racing operation fell outside of that definition.
Mr Haugh noted that while Ballydoyle had argued that May was a busy period, similar alleged breaches had also been detected the following November, while Ballydoyle racehorse trainer Aidan O'Brien had admitted that the business was busy throughout the year.
According to the recommendation, asked whether it would be possible to recruit more grooms and riders so all staff could be given their statutory daily or weekly rest breaks, Mr O'Brien said that would increase the health and safety risk for the horse and the workers because the same "telepathic" relationship would not be present between the horse and those attending him.
The court rejected Ballydoyle's contention that it was entitled to the derogation from providing statutory rest periods for agricultural activities under the Organisation of Working Time Act, and allowed the WRC compliance notices to stand.
During the hearing, the court also heard that the Irish Racehorse Training Authority had previously made a submission to a review of the Agricultural Joint Labour Committee arguing that the training industry should be excluded from the scope of the JLC's work, which would have included setting statutory minimum rates of pay and conditions for workers in the sector.
It is understood that Ballydoyle is expected to appeal the Labour Court ruling.
The WRC said it noted the outcome of the case, it was working with the industry to increase awareness and compliance and would launch an employer guide later this month.