Horse Racing Ireland granted working time exemption

Horse racing industry granted ‘agriculture’ exemption

The European Communities (Organisation of Working Time) (General Exemptions) (Amendment) Regulations 2018 (2018 Regulations) came into effect in Ireland on 19th December 2018. Prior to the 2018 Regulations coming into force, the horse racing industry did not fall under the ‘agriculture’ exemption in the Organisation of Working Time (General Exemptions) Regulations 1998 (1998 Regulations).

Organisation of Working Time (General Exemptions) Regulations, 1998

The 1998 Regulations provide employers engaged in certain sectors of the economy or in the public service with exemptions from rest periods outlined in working time legislation. The horse racing industry has been arguing that its activity falls under the ‘agriculture’ exemption and that it should be exempt from the requirement to provide employees with certain rest breaks. Up until late last year, the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) consistently denied that employers within the horse racing industry were entitled to the exemption as the activity did not fall under the term ‘agriculture’.

Horse racing industry argues its case

Prior to the introduction of the 1998 Regulations, employers in the horse racing industry were experiencing difficulties complying with some of the rules set out in the Organisation of Working Time Act, 1997 (OWTA). Representations were made to the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, requesting amendments to be made to the OWTA, to allow the horse racing industry to avail of the derogations provided for in the EU Working Time Directive.

Widening of agriculture exemption to include breeding and training of racehorses

The 2018 Regulations provide that the term “agriculture” under the 1998 Regulations now includes, “the caring for or the rearing or the breeding or training of racehorses”.  The 2018 Regulations will provide employers in the horse racing industry with more flexibility in applying working time rules to their employees. The derogations relate to daily rest periods, rests and intervals at work, weekly rest periods and nightly working hours. Where the relevant rest breaks are not provided, they may be delayed until a later time. Any affected employees must receive such breaks as soon as possible thereafter.

Ireland opts out of opt out clauses

Although many of the exemptions to working time laws have been transposed into national legislation from the relevant EU Directive, Article 22 was not. Article 22 provides that EU Member States can allow the non-application of the weekly maximum of 48 hours provided the employee agrees to “opt out” and the employee’s health and safety is guaranteed. The Irish Government policy decision was not to transpose the opt out clause exemption into Irish national law. The position in Ireland therefore remains that an employee must not work in excess of an average of 48 hours per week over a 4 or 6-month reference period.

Horse racing industry must still abide by certain working time rules

The derogation in the 2018 Regulations does not provide a blanket exemption for employers in the horse racing industry.

The following rules must be adhered to:

  1. the employee must be engaged in activities where there is ‘the need for continuity of service or production’ or where there is ‘a foreseeable surge in activity’.


  1. the employee must be required to be engaged wholly or mainly in performing the activities concerned, and;


  1. Where a derogation is availed of, the employee must be provided compensatory rest period. This compensatory rest is to be provided as soon as possible after the missed rest period.


Your business may be entitled to avail of exemptions to working time laws. To learn more, please contact the advice line on +353 1 886 0350

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