QUEENSLAND jockeys are at the end of their tether and there is little sympathy emanating from the board at Racing Queensland Limited.
After a year of negotiating an increase in payments made to riders by RQL, the issue came to a head yesterday with the Central Queensland Jockey delegate Matthew Cant and a number of other regional representatives meeting with RQL officials to discuss the latest fee proposal.
“It’s not what we asked for but it looks like we’ve met them halfway,” Cant said prior to meeting with RQL.
RQL chairman Bob Bentley confirmed in a statement that the recent increase from $147 per ride to $165 by July 1, and staggered up to $170 by July next year, was the “best and final offer on behalf of the racing industry”.
Cant said the dispute was far from being resolved after settlement on the fee increase with ongoing issues regarding work cover and workers’ compensation which required immediate attention.
Even with the new increase, Queensland jockeys lagged far behind in riding fee payments when compared to neighbouring Australian states, according to Cant.
“We are still way behind the eight-ball on that one,” he said.
It’s an issue which resonates passionately with one of Central Queensland’s leading jockeys in Adrian Coome.
“I think it should have been more to start off with,” he said.
“The ground is no softer up here than it is down there, why should NSW and Victoria be getting over $200 per ride?”
Bentley however was adamant RQL had pushed as far as it could without tapping into additional funding sources.
“There is no pot of gold and the board has gone as far as it can in terms of increased benefits for riders without reviewing other funding streams such as prizemoney.”
What Coome, Cant and possibly the majority of Queensland jockeys across the board were in favour of was a standardised system of payments Australia-wide.
But it was a call which had - and looked to continue to - fall on deaf ears throughout the remainder of the racing body.
“It would be great, but it will never happen,” Cant said.
Calls for a state-wide jockey strike had the negotiations not been resolved were never really a viable alternative Cant said, despite the repeated setbacks.
“We would have pushed for another delay – strike was the last option because no-one gets paid,” Cant said.
Meanwhile, the state’s racing industry is under increasing strain due to a spell of wet weather wreaking havoc for race meets, and those whose incomes depend on it.
“It’s hard both financially and keeping my weight,” CQ jockey Coome said.
“Everyone is struggling but the owners particularly are feeling the pinch,” Cant added.
“Jockeys may not be getting an income due to the wet weather but the owners are not getting an income either and they still have all the stabling and veterinary associated bills going out as well.”
There is light at the end of the tunnel and no matter how scrupulous RQL becomes over the pay issue, all parties including Emerald Jockey Club’s Leon Roberts are in agreement that any increase is better than no increase.
“No-one can question the dangers faced on a daily basis by jockeys and it is hard to put a dollar value on that,” he said. “It is good to see that the situation has been negotiated sensibly and to each party’s satisfaction. Given the number of race meetings abandoned lately due to the rain, the last thing that owners and trainers would want would be to be faced with is a jockey’s strike, so hopefully that has been averted.”
Cant echoed Robert’s comments.
“It (the rise) is good particularly for regional and remote places.
“It keeps the jockeys doing what they love doing and eases the pain just a little from no racing.
“We’ve got movement now and I see the industry going well as long as that continues but if it becomes stagnant then we’re in trouble.”
No further review on riding fees is expected from RQL until March 2013, however Cant said it was their intention to push prior to that date.
“We will probably go further in 12 months,” he said.
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