Racing’s shutdown is having a huge affect on stable staff, with reports of redundancies already rife.
George McGrath, chief executive of the National Association of Racing Staff, has been inundated with calls for help from his members since Tuesday’s announcement that racing was to cease until at least May in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
“In terms of my membership it is catastrophic and it is only heading in one direction,” he said.
“The organisation itself, NARS, is OK at the moment, but we are a small organisation representing 7,500 staff so as you can imagine we are pretty busy at the moment.
“Without a doubt the main concerns are job losses and redundancies. Where do they get money from? Some have gone into work to be turned away by employers and they are asking what their rights are.
“It’s carnage out there at the moment because people are very worried, and that includes trainers, nobody wants to let their staff go but if money isn’t coming in how do you pay people.”
Many questions have been asked as to how racing in Ireland can continue behind closed doors while in Britain those measures were only in place for one day, but McGrath understands why the decision was taken.
“Obviously we aren’t the only sector having these sorts of issues, but as an industry we are doing our utmost to keep things ticking over until a time comes when we are able to stage racing again, but if you’ve no money coming in you can’t pay wages,” he told Sky Sports Racing.
“Since the first announcement of no racing we have had members put out of work. The industry was gearing up to race behind closed doors with a reduced fixture list, but the landscape changed so quickly the rug was taken from under our feet when the political ramifications were made clear and medical advice said we couldn’t continue.
“The industry is working incredibly hard and is as co-oridnated as it has ever been to alleviate the pressure that everybody is under.”
In what is traditionally low-paid work, McGrath is worried for the future for many of his members.
“Traditionally most staff will survive from one week to the next. Most of my members are paid weekly, some fortnightly – very few monthly. Like a lot of people in the country they might be able to survive without one pay cheque, but if you’ve got to go two or three you’re going to struggle,” he said.
“Having said that, there is a hardship grant available to our members so if they contact us we will direct them to Racing Welfare services who will get to them as soon as they can.
“The reality is the racing industry is looking at a loss of around £200million if we can’t get going before June and as an industry and from an employer perspective we simply can’t survive that outlook.
“Trainers are doing their utmost to help staff keep their jobs, but by and large they are small businessmen with a massive cashflow problem.”
One minor positive in favour of working in a racing yard is that it takes place outdoors and social distancing comes naturally.
“The majority of the work takes place outdoors and the majority of the work takes place where you are very unlikely to be as close as a metre to someone – even if you are riding out upsides,” said McGrath.
“Most strings ride one behind another. Most yards are practising social isolation and have extra handwash facilities.
“Most of my members are under 60 so unless they have underlying health issues are likely to survive the virus. We are a young, resilient, hard-working workforce so in some respects that is the silver lining to the cloud.”