Q: I am looking for my first job as a groom, but am worried that many advertised posts will be on an informal basis, with no contract and, presumably, no sick pay or holiday entitlement. I am keen to be as professional as possible and want to safeguard my entitlements as an employee. Any advice?
RW, Kent

ACCORDING to LANTRA, the sector skills council for the environmental and land-based sector, the horse industry employs 50,000 people directly and an additional 100,000-200,000 workers indirectly.

All legitimate equestrian businesses would agree that there’s no place in today’s diverse market for shoddy employment practices.

In terms of advertised positions, the posts you see may appear informal, but you do have rights.

“Even if it’s not in writing, a worker has a verbal contract with their employer and is automatically entitled to statutory sick pay, holidays and the minimum wage — but employers may not understand their obligations,” says Lucy Katan of the British Grooms’ Association.

“Our website includes helpful advice about employing staff.”

In order for each party to understand their obligations, Richard Brooks, partner at law firm Withy King, says a proper contract of employment is the ideal scenario.

“Such contracts should be promoted for the good of both employer and employee,” he says.

“Each party will then know exactly where they stand on matters such as pay, holidays, sick pay and, ultimately, the ability to terminate the worker’s employment.

“All staff are entitled to receive a written statement of the major terms of employment from their employer, no later than two months after commencing work.

“It is also worth remembering that the law protects employees with or without a written contract of employment,” he continues.

“If need be, the law will recognise certain terms; for example, if you are told that you will be paid at a certain rate, that is a term of your contract and cannot be changed on an employer’s whim.

“Other terms are automatically incorporated by law. For example, it is illegal to make deductions from wages without your prior written consent. The law also provides a national minimum wage and minimum statutory notice periods, as well as many other statutory protections.

“Full-time employees are currently entitled to four weeks’ annual paid holiday, which includes bank holidays. But holiday entitlement is currently a hot topic and the government is intending to increase entitlement to 24 days [including bank holidays] from 1 October 2007, and then 28 days [including bank holidays] from 1 April 2009. Part-time workers will be entitled to the equivalent on a pro-rata basis.

“Most employees are entitled to statutory sick pay from the fourth consecutive day of sickness absence [the first three days are unpaid]. And anyone employed by a licensed racehorse trainer will have the protection of detailed minimum employment terms, outlined in the rules of racing.”

Information

British Grooms’ Association Tel: 0845 331 6039 www.britishgrooms.org.uk
Withy King Tel: 01672 514781 www.withyking.co.uk

This Q&A was first published in Horse & Hound (12 July, ’07)