Racing: Trainers concede 5% rise for lads

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The Independent Online
STABLE lads' wages will rise by five per cent from 1 February, but the skilled workers who groom valuable racehorses for the nation's richest people will remain one of the lowest-paid groups in the country, writes Greg Wood.

The new minimum wage for a 40-hour week will rise from pounds 129.46 to pounds 135.93, while pay for senior lads will go up to pounds 154.62 from pounds 147.26. The settlement is the first to be reached between the Stable Lads Association (SLA) and the National Trainers Federation (NTF) since 1991.

Talks collapsed in 1992, when the trainers imposed their own increase, and again last year, when stable staff received no rise at all. It is a recent history which takes much of the shine from yesterday's apparently inflation-beating settlement.

Bill Adams, the SLA secretary, declined to comment after the negotiations, but Toby Balding, for the NTF, said: 'It was a constructive and amenable meeting, thank goodness it has come to a satisfactory conclusion.'

The SLA was also concerned that the recommended ratio of one lad to three horses was being abused. The NTF refused to make a specific commitment on staff-to-horse ratios, but said that the situation would be monitored and breaches in the code dealt with, if necessary, by the Jockey Club.

The National Joint Council for stable staff (NJC), which includes both negotiating sides, welcomed the agreement, describing it as 'a move in the right direction in view of the new advantages to owners arising from the recent government decision on VAT.' But the NJC also believes that working conditions can be improved only when the British Horseracing Board secures the overall financial welfare of racing.

The problem is whether many stable staff can afford to wait that long.

Lingfield is the sole surviving meeting today after Market Rasen's card followed Worcester's and fell victim to torrential rain yesterday. Prospects for tomorrow's meeting at Towcester look dim after half an inch of rain fell in 12 hours yesterday, and the course is currently waterlogged. An announcement will be made after an 8.45am inspection today. Hopes are much brighter for tomorrow's other scheduled jumping card, at Edinburgh. Southwell stages the day's third card on the all-weather.