TRAINERS based at Randjesfontein have issued a press release in which they give their version of events that unfolded before and during the grooms’ strike that was staged at the North Rand Training Centre this week.
The trainers claim that while they have sympathy for the striking grooms and are happy to pay the wages agreed to, the deal was made under a constant threat of violence, to which they object to in the strongest terms.
The release reads:
Following partly correct and in some cases incorrect reports in the media about the grooms’ strike that took place at Randjesfontein this week, we feel obliged to inform you of the true facts that are relevant in this matter.
After last month’s strike, a series of demands were put forward by the grooms/Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to trainers at the North Rand Training Centre.
The grooms approached the EFF out of frustration after they’d been let down by Mr Samoto of the then SAGA (South African Grooms Association), who attempted to form a national forum but took his eye off the ball after he was awarded a security contract at Durbanville. This left a gap for the EFF to fill.
We, the trainers, deemed it a good idea to create a monthly forum between us and the grooms in which their needs could be addressed in an ongoing manner, a process that was hijacked by the EFF.
We must state from the onset that we have sympathy with the plight of grooms nationally in regards to wage demands, living conditions, travelling to and from race meetings, safety in the workplace; and also with their requests for compliance in the workplace when it comes to UIF and Workmans Compensation – basic, realisable issues that should have been taken care of without the EFF getting involved.
There were trainers who have not been paying basic acceptable minimums, but many others were, and are, paying well above that. We concede that in some cases minimum wages had not been paid, this has now been addressed.
The wage issue is complicated in that it reflects a highly competitive industry in which most trainers do not charge enough, they undercharge to remain competitive and there is a knock-on effect from that.
The grooms asked for a minimum wage of R14,000 per month, an unrealistic figure which will lead to the closure of the racing industry if adhered to. There is a definite limit in South African racing of owners willing to pay for the luxury of owning a racehorse. Costs increased to the extent of absorbing this kind of wage will not be accepted and owners will leave the game.
We have now arrived at an agreeable figure of R1,000 per week as the absolute minimum wage that a groom will receive. There are trainers who pay well in excess of that to experienced grooms. This excludes the 1% of stakes received by the groom of a winning horse. Grooms can earn bonuses of up to R25,000 if a horse in their care wins one of SA’s premier events.
It must also be noted at this time that racing is experiencing shrinkage with fewer owners and horses in training. The sport is in trouble.
While the grooms’ living quarters are a relic of the past – they were built 30 years ago – this should not be an excuse for the condition they are in.
The hostels are in effect owned by the Racing Association and sub-leased to Phumelela, who in-turn sublets them to us, the trainers. Phumelela’s own security company controls access to the living areas and the standards have slipped, leading to overcrowding, with many illegals being allowed in.
Hostels were trashed by grooms after being repaired extensively three years ago at a cost of millions to Phumelela, which led to the closing of two hostels which aggravated the overcrowding situation.
The situation has deteriorated further, standards have been allowed to slip. As things stand now, we and Phumelela have to see to it that standards are once again raised, but grooms will need to take responsibility this time. They will have to realise that they cannot destroy things again. They will need to police themselves!
We know that the hostel system is an undesirable relic and that the South African government are against it. We and Phumelela share this stance. However, if we were to close the hostels altogether, where will the 400 men in our service find accommodation?
Phumelela are in this situation with us. Our lease agreement with them states that we are responsible for basic terms of employment by complying with the labour law. They have the right to evict those who do not adhere to the basic terms of employment and do not uphold the labour law to the letter.
Wednesday, 20 June 2018
On this morning grooms started their demand for salaries of R14,000 per month. Negotiations were started, the grooms/EFF appointed negotiators to speak with us.
The process was not given a full chance to develop and was stopped before agreements could be reached. The EFF and the grooms staged a walkout and an illegal strike was started.
At this juncture a number of individuals at the training centre became hostages as we were not allowed out and, for that matter, nobody was allowed in. This affected trainers and staff, farriers and physiotherapists on duty in the centre. Even a veterinarian attempting to access the premises to treat a sick horse, was not allowed entry after being verbally abused.
Grooms armed themselves and started destroying property. Assistants of colour, who have been promoted from grooms through hard diligent work and are all registered with the NHA, were threatened with death if they refused to join the strike. The strikers also threatened to open the barns so that the horses could be let out to run loose.
Every person within Randjesfontein at this point felt that their lives had come under threat. The Phumelela security/Stryker had let us down completely by abandoning their posts. Police simply ignored our calls for help and a private security firm had to be called in along with Randjes Estate security.
It is important to note that trainers and their employees that remained at the stables ensured that all the horses, every single one, were adequately fed and watered. At no stage were the horses neglected. All that they missed out on were two days of exercise.
Thursday, 22 June 2018
At 3am, militant members of the grooms and the EFF breached the non-existent security entrances (we were assured that Phumelela/Stryker Security would be doubling their staff, but this did not happen) and came into the stable area, physically smashing doors down and pulling assistant trainers from their rooms. They were dragged to the entrances where the gatherings had started.
Trainers were allowed into the centre and shortly after 7am talks were resumed. During the meeting trainer Mike de Kock complained of sudden chest pains, an ambulance was called and he was taken to a nearby clinic for tests. Mr De Kock is in good health and back at home. Agreements were reached during the course of the morning.
The negotiation process took place under a constant threat of violence, which is completely unacceptable. If demands were not met, the grooms/EFF threatened that there would be damage to property, including the burning of stables and offices and transportation trucks, should they arrive to pick up horses.
The deal was therefore made under duress.
We recognize the rights of any individual to negotiate and demonstrate and we commend the EFF for stepping in to shed light on the plight of grooms within South African racing. However, they lost the moral highground when introducing elements of violence and a disrespectful, militant anger we have never seen before amongst our grooms. This includes seeing grooms arm themselves with everything from pangas to golf clubs to steel rods to sticks, burning and damaging property.
Trainers are more than willing to talk, to sit and negotiate with grooms, but we object to the negotiating under the threat of violence. The EFF did their job in bringing us together but then let themselves down once violence, militancy and threats crept into the process.
We employ mostly good, hardworking and non-violent staff and the unruly element that has now crept into our midst is not a favourable outcome. We as trainers didn’t want this, we employ our staff because they are essential to the running of our industry. We are determined and committed to improving their lives but this cannot be done overnight. The grooms must understand that they are essential cogs in the machine and that they are valued.
In going forward, we’d prefer amicable negotiations, preferably with an independent mediator, so that permanent solutions can be found. We already live under the threat of another strike and given the absence of adequate security we are worried about what Monday may bring.
The threat to lives, our horses and our property is very real. Anyone with a horse in training at Randjes has to be worried about the welfare of the horse and the welfare of the people looking after it.
We would have expected job security to be the most important item on the agenda of the grooms/EFF, but after what has transpired we now question their motives.