By Tracy Sorensen
SYDNEY — Two racing industry workers have been sacked because they refused a management order to work in the place of unionists who took part in the October 23 NSW general strike against the Greiner government's Industrial Relations Bill.
Mark McGrath and Matthew Davis were employed by the Australian Jockey Club as handicappers (the people who work out the weights to be placed in saddles) at the Randwick race track.
Anticipating the strike, management worked out an emergency plan to distribute "menial tasks" among salaried officers for the day, so the scheduled race meeting could go ahead. The day before the strike, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a photograph showing AJC management having a practice session pulling beers at the bar.
But McGrath and Davis refused to scab. For protection and support, the two decided to join the Australian Workers Union: an unusual course of action for salaried workers.
On October 23, McGrath and Davis stayed at home. On October 25, they were handed termination notices with their pay.
The AWU, which is overseeing their industrial court actions for compensation and/or reinstatement, has promised to back them "all the way", including the possibility of calling work stoppages at the Randwick track.
McGrath, who worked long and hard to gain full-time employment in the industry — he started out swabbing horses part time on race days — says that his career in the racing industry is now finished".
"By sacking me the AJC have alienated me from a large sector of the racing industry", he told Green Left. "They've discredited my reputation as well. Handicapping opportunities are few and far between. There are probably less than 20 handicappers working around Australia. Those positions very rarely come up for grabs."
What drove him to risk the job he loved?
"It was just the sense of right and wrong that says you shouldn't be pushed around like that, be ordered to do work that people are striking from for a worthwhile purpose. That's the core of the issue. The ramifications of the Industrial Relations Bill are that it could devalue a lot of conditions it's taken years to build up. That's a pretty scary prospect."