03/20/2015 12:21PM

Immigration policies could negatively affect Woodbine meet


ETOBICOKE, Ontario – Trainer Brian Lynch said he will be scaling back his operation at Woodbine this season because if he doesn’t, changes to Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program would have forced him to let several long-term employees go.

Lynch, who typically maintains a stable with 45 stalls at Woodbine, said he still will keep 10 to 12 horses in Canada during the meet, but the majority of his horses will be stabled at Belmont Park.

“The crew that works for me, some of them are going on 12 years, and because I couldn’t get them up to Canada, I didn’t want to let them go,” he said. “These employees become like family to you when you work in this industry and you are with them seven days a week. It was just one of those issues where I wasn’t going to turn help loose when they’ve been with me for that long.”

The Canadian government announced an overhaul of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program last June, and according to Sue Leslie, president of the Horsemen’s Protective and Benevolent Association of Ontario, strict regulations on hiring foreign workers in Canada are causing issues for a number of horsemen and could significantly impact the horse population at Woodbine.

Leslie said positions within the province’s horse-racing industry are now considered lower-skilled occupations under the federal government’s National Occupation Classification system, which defines lower-skilled occupations as those that usually require at most a high school diploma or a maximum of two years of job-specific training.

“The fact is, exercise riders and grooms are not low-skilled,” Leslie said. “The problem is trying to educate someone that doesn’t understand a racehorse. It doesn’t seem that complex to them to find someone or teach someone to be an exercise rider or a groom, but that’s so far from the truth.”

As part of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, employers who want to hire a foreign worker for lower-skilled occupations must demonstrate a shortage of Canadians for the position, pay a $1,000, nonrefundable application fee for each foreign worker – up from $275 in 2014 – and cap the number of foreign workers to 20 percent of their total work force by July 1, with the cap decreasing to 10 percent by July 1, 2016.

Leslie said notices were sent to trainers about the changes to the program last fall, but the HBPA could not have anticipated the extreme nature of the regulations at that point.

“There was no indication at that time that the leap from where we were at was going to be where we ended up,” she said. “We knew they were going to tighten up, but they’ve taken it to such a level now. [The horsemen] want to hire Canadians, but they aren’t there to be had.”

Along with Lynch, several of Woodbine’s larger stables are having trouble gaining approval for a number of employees who have not had issues working at Woodbine in the past. Among those is six-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse, who also has 45 stalls at Woodbine and rents a farm in Ontario to stable additional horses during the racing season.

“We have [had employees’ applications denied],” he said. “We’re going to apply some more. I haven’t heard whether they’ve been denied, but we’re expecting them to be. It makes it very difficult, and in fact, it could limit the number of horses we send to [Woodbine]. Right now, we don’t have the help to even handle 45 horses.”

Casse said he has received applications from Canadians to fill out his staff at Woodbine, but very few applicants have turned out to be qualified candidates.

“We get a lot of applications, but very few seriously want jobs,” he said.

Leslie said that both the HBPA and Woodbine are in constant contact with provincial officials to resolve the issue, but those officials are seeking clarification on the regulations of the new program from federal officials.

“The problem is we can’t get the issue up the ladder quick enough in order for them to make a decision,” she said.

Leslie added that the horse-racing industry isn’t the only industry affected by the changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

“We know it’s a hardship for our trainers, and it’s going to be a problem on the backside,” she said. “I don’t know what more we can do. We’re doing all we can. We’re not giving up.”

Lynch said he would welcome a full return to Woodbine if the issue can be resolved.

“I have a condo up there, and I’ve built a business around being based at Woodbine,” he said. “It’s a big hit for me.”

Gail Johnson More than 1 year ago
When I started on the track in 1968 I was making $ 70.00 clear a week grooming as ex rider we got $5.00 a mount hot walkers 2-3 per horse. When I retire because of illness I was making $ 558.00 . That is looking after 4 horses now the trainers want grooms to look after 5 horses for the same amount so they said they can get better help for least money. A lot of us live with that because we love our horses & did not want loose our jobs . So now ! it is hard for Young people to start on the track . Even us old ones . Then the government hurt us my husband manage a small breeding farm . Owner sold out because of losing money . But no matter what happens we love our horses , so let us keep our jobs , then hire out side help do the right thing trainers , treat your help right and they will treat right your horses will have the love & care they deserve .
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
if you are with the same horses, day in and day out, regardless of where they are located, you should be able to travel with them too. Much like the support team for a pro sports franchise, it aint just about the players. Regardless of what this Michelle woman claims this is..... As an owner of horses, I want the same people with my horse as often as possible. I do not mind that they change tracks, but Id like the same folks with my horses.
Hunter Delaney More than 1 year ago
To Clarify some things about Woodbine. Grooms wages are roughly $680-$700/wk gross pay, and Riders are earning anywhere from $700-$800/wk gross. That's $17/hr in the real world for Grooms, and $20/hr for riders. I don't think there are any jobs outside the Woodbine gate these candidates would be able to perform at that pay scale. Correct, the slots drove the price of everything up, INCLUDING wages for grooms, riders and hotwalkers, and the employees now do less. Employees are more worried about days off than actually doing the job. I watched a groom, making $680/wk, tell a trainer "I dont do Ice Boots". There are very few true Canadians that really want to do the job, most want to smoke cigarettes and collect a paycheque.
michelle olsson More than 1 year ago
I am a true Canadian ... do not smoke, drink etc. and do ice boots and whatever has to be done before I leave the shed. Seven days a week. Do forget Woodbine trainers charge there owners 100- 140 per day ... Fort Erie trainers charge an average 55 a day and most of them are hands on.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
not relevant. Sounds like a union boss. "well they make this much, so we should get that much"
martymar . More than 1 year ago
are you really comparing fort erie to woodbine? shows how idiotic your logic is.
grayposse More than 1 year ago
Temporary foreign workers take the jobs in Canada that no other Canadian in their right mind would take due to pay and conditions. Hopefully, Lynch and Casse and the other horseman that employ these people aren't in that group as well.
Tim Orlando More than 1 year ago
The pay is fair - especially from CASSE & LYNCH - the working conditions are a standard of this industry.....early mornings, cold/hot extremes, 6 days a weak , very labour intensive. The TFW employed by CASSE & LYNCH and MANY others are experienced hands that enjoy the work. There is NOT an abundance of Canadians who are experienced or interested in this work - this does NOT the job is not rewarding and enriching for a suitable candidate
Jeff Smith More than 1 year ago
To bad obama is not the president of CANADA, if he was, the horsemen would'nt have this problem, he lets everybody in!
Sharon Ceccato More than 1 year ago
There are able workers at Ft Erie that NEED jobs!!
Daryl Ezra More than 1 year ago
gment needs to understand our business ... horsemanship is a unique skill... judge each outfit on an individual bases ... downsize say 20% each year .... if a trainer hired 100% foreign workers in 2014 = 80% in 2015....64%in 2016...allow for all families to make adjustments stop painting every business with the same brush ...
Daryl Ezra More than 1 year ago
cap at say10/20 percent
Daryl Ezra More than 1 year ago
basis ... auto gadget mcthinger
Heidy Cooke More than 1 year ago
This is great news! Should have happened years ago!
Nathan More than 1 year ago
Gail Johnson More than 1 year ago
I must of miss something only a lic Vet can give I'v. Or to tube . Does not matter where u are from.
Heidy Cooke More than 1 year ago
The purses increased dramatically and the wages went up minimally for the Hot Walkers, Grooms , Exercise Riders etc. The owners and trainers made a lot more money but did not share it over the last 10 years. Foreign workers came in and worked cheap and sent all of their money back home to their country. Lots of workers in the Standardbred division are out of work, they are qualified. Pay them well and they will work hard for you. Brian Lynch and Mark Casse make boatloads of money, just look at their total purses over the last decade. No reason for them to not have full stables at several tracks year round.