The Ballydoyle racehorse training operation has appealed a Labour Court ruling regarding excessive working hours for stable staff.
Earlier this month, the Labour Court dismissed a Ballydoyle appeal against compliance notices issued by the Workplace Relations Commission over the alleged failure to give grooms and exercise riders legal rest periods.
The court had heard that some staff worked for up to 19 hours a day without adequate compensatory rest periods, with others working for 28 days without a day off.
Ballydoyle had argued that it was exempt from the strict provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act because it was engaged in an agricultural activity.
Racehorse trainer Aidan O'Brien had also given evidence that many stable staff had such a strong "telepathic" bond with their highly strung, thoroughbred horses that they chose to come in on their days off.
However, the Labour Court found that the racehorse training did not count as an agricultural activity and upheld the WRC compliance notices.
Today, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation confirmed that Ballydoyle has appealed the Labour Court ruling to the Circuit Court.
The department said the WRC will not take any enforcement action against Ballydoyle until that appeal is concluded.
However, if the Circuit Court re-affirms a Labour Court decision, failure by an employer to comply with the decision would be a criminal offence.
A summary conviction would carry penalties of a fine up to €5,000 and/or a prison term of up to six months.
A conviction on indictment would see penalties of a fine of up to €50,000 and/or up to three years in prison.
Meanwhile, representatives of Horse Racing Ireland, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association and the Irish Stable Staff Association met today to discuss the implications of the Ballydoyle ruling for the industry.
The employers could find themselves forced to hire extra staff to cover the required hours in compliance with working time legislation, at a time when there is a staff shortage in the sector.
In addition, stable staff could see earnings reduced by being forced to work fewer hours.
After today's meeting, CEO of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, Michael Grassick, said that while no decisions had been taken on a specific course of action, they had explored a number of options to bring employers and employees into compliance with the law on working time and rest periods.
One option could involve registering a legally binding employment agreement with the Labour Court to cover the racehorse industry specifically, rather than the entire agriculture sector.
It is understood that the industry plans to liaise with the WRC and the Labour Court on the best way to manage the situation, and is also considering hiring professional human resources specialists to advise them.
During the Labour Court 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.