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  • Writer's pictureThe Pony Podcast

8 Facts about Working Pupil roles you need to know

Following on from our episode with the British Grooms Association's Lucy Katan, here are all the things you need to know about Working Pupil or Apprenticeship roles.

The British Groom’s Association is the professional membership association for anyone who works with horses. Lucy Katan founded the BGA 15 years ago after working in a variety of roles as a groom including grooming internationally for dressage rider Peter Storr. The organisation started as a voice for grooms and founded on promoting the 3 R’s, recognition, reward and retention/ recruitment. Membership is £25/yr and benefits everyone working with horses in any capacity.

Lucy Katan, Executive Director of the BGA

We all know at the end of the day horses are a lifestyle job. If you are a travelling groom you’ll be away from home a lot with long hours and it isn’t a job where you can clock on and off, but on the flip side when you go to big shows you get a wristband and be that important person who gets to go behind the scenes. Despite these aspects of the job, it has to come with good employment. You shouldn’t be wondering if you’re being paid properly or recognised for the work you are doing.

The biggest myths that we hear in the industry are ‘It’ll never change’ and ‘That’s just the way it is with horses’. The equine industry has to change, and it is, there are really good jobs and great employers out there. Social media has made a big impact on this change. In the past many grooms used to be quite isolated and didn’t interact with the wider community, but now most of the posts that go viral are from grumpy grooms. The BGA work together to make conditions better for grooms, however their biggest challenge is apathy, don’t just accept your situation, they are there to make it better.

What should you be aware of for a Working Pupil or Apprenticeship Role?

- The job title Working Pupil is a big red flag as it is a historical word adopted by the equine industry. From a BGA survey 92% of these positions are illegal. The best thing to look for is an apprenticeship or employment with training. There are some adverts that use the phrase working pupil so potential candidates know what to look for, but make sure you read the description carefully.

- You are an employee, not self-employed, so do not accept that. You can’t be a working pupil and self-employed. If you are self-employed you have more than one client, run your own business, choose your own hours and choose your pay rate. So if you can’t do these things you are an employee.

- You must be paid at least National Minimum Wage for every hour you work, (this will vary based on age). When calculating a salary it has to be based on hours worked in a week. Eg typical grooms hours are 50hrs a week x NMW for age x 52 = annual salary. If overtime is worked you should either be paid for overtime or get time off in lieu (this must be taken within the month).

- You need a written contract. From 1st April 2020, you must have a written contract on or before the day you start. This is important as it protects both the employee and employer.

- You must have payslips. You tax and National Insurance will be deducted on these. You won’t pay much if you aren’t earning much, but if you’re not paying tax or NI, aren’t registered as self-employed or on PAYE (tax system), then the system flags up that your NI number isn’t doing anything. If you’re working and not paying, then it’s a dent on your record, and if the employer is later investigated, the tax authorities could come and find you and give you a tax bill.

- You must receive your holiday entitlement.

- You should not have anything deduced for your horse. If you take your own horse, you should be invoiced for the cost of the horse and you should be charged for lessons ( if there is a charge). You can’t have these costs deducted from wages. A good way to handle this is to say ‘I’m going to have 2 formal lessons per week and I’d like to be invoiced’ If you go on holiday then you won’t get them so you shouldn’t be charged. If you go for an interview and they say you’ll be trained every day, it probably isn’t going to happen.

- Accommodation. If you’re on NMW the maximum charge that can be deducted is £57.40/wk, including bills, this is called the accommodation offset. Make sure you have a good look around before you accept and don’t think you’ll be happy there, don’t go.

If you work part time, or two jobs, you are still an employee, and you will still need the same paperwork.

Horse's are not a 9-5 job, but it's important you are paid properly for all the hours you work
Horses are not a 9-5 job, but it's important you are paid properly for all the hours you work

What questions should you ask at an interview?

- Are the employee’s happy? What’s the yard like? Longest serving member of staff? Don’t apply for jobs that are constantly being advertised as this shows high staff turnover.

- How does it work when you come back from an event late? If there is an eye roll that’s an immediate red flag that probably nothing is done.

- Take notes of anything said and agreed in the meeting and ask for it in writing.

What do you do if you are already working and you think your employer isn’t following the rules?

- Have a look at the My Employment section on the British Groom Association website.

- Phone the BGA. They can chat through the situation with you, they understand the equine sector and have all been grooms. They know how to have the conversation and approach the subject with your employer.

- If employer isn’t going to change, leave. By accepting illegal jobs, all you are doing is fuelling the situation. There are lots of good employers out there, if you can’t go and work for one immediately, work for someone else until the job you really want comes up.

- If you are going to challenge your employer, make sure you understand their side and approach it from the stance of appreciation for everything they have done for you. It’ll make it easier than going in angry.

At the end of the day the yard has to be viable and be able to afford the staff. If the yard can’t afford to pay properly, then there needs to be a change in how the yard is run. On a traditional yard, all the staff are on the yard by 7am, then everyone mucks out, the horses are worked, all the tack is cleaned and everyone finishes together, this is a very expensive staffing model. A smarter model would be, all staff start at 9am, one member on rotation comes in and feeds earlier, it’s not the end of the world if the yard isn’t mucked out by 9:30am. Think about other things, like tack cleaning. Bridles need to be cleaned every day, saddles don’t. Why do we sweep the yard at the end of the day when no one will see it and we’re going to cover it in hay the following morning? As long as horse welfare is always put first, it doesn’t matter how the yard is run. If your staff finish at 5, finish them at 5 and on a competition day save money and give them time of in lieu.

There is hope that COVID introduces a new normal. In the first lockdown, when people started getting in touch, government support was only available for those who had played by the rules historically. There was a spike in grooms calling who had been let go, because they had been working as self-employed and so couldn’t be furloughed. There were also businesses who couldn’t access funding because they weren’t compliant in other ways. It’s all about educating people about what they are entitled to and what is available for them.

All the information discussed here is available on the BGA website

The Equestrian Employers Association is the place to go for Employers information, their website can be found here.

If you want to listen to the episode in full, that can be found here.

If you want to find out what it's really like in an apprentice or working pupil role, make sure you listen to our episode on it which you can find here

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