Japan stable staffs go on strike, but races continue

Japan stable staffs go on strike, but races continue
Photo: Kaz Ishida/Eclipse Sportswire

Even though the Japanese stable staff unions have gone on strike, racing at Japan Racing Association tracks continued Saturday and is expected to continue Sunday.

Uncertainty over whether racing would continue during the labor stoppage raised questions over whether the Fukuryu Stakes, a Japan road to Kentucky Derby 2023 race scheduled for next Saturday at Nakayama, would be affected.

The Japan Trainers' Association and the four main labor unions that represent stable workers and exercise riders did not come to an agreement during negotiations on either Thursday or Friday, as reported by Japanese racing information site NetKeiba.com. The unions had filed a notice of strike on March 10.

Union grooms are off the job, and racegoers have reported cutbacks in some services such as wagering hours. However, NetKeiba.com reported that trainers and other non-union staff were continuing to operate JRA race meetings during the weekend.

The current wage system for union employees including grooms and exercise riders went into effect in 2011. The unions that represent these workers have been asking for that system to be abolished and for an increase in their basic rate of pay, as reported by NetKeiba.com.

That 2011 pay scale came in response to a downturn in betting handle on JRA races, as previously reported in a Tweet by Japan-based racing journalist Graham Pavey. In 1997 handle on JRA races reached its all-time high of $32.17 billion when adjusted for Japan inflation rates and then converted to 2023 U.S. dollars. Handle fell each of the next 14 years, including through three years of a global recession, prompting the lower pay scale.

After hitting a low point of $19.18 billion in 2011, however, handle on JRA races has risen every year since. The handle in 2022 was $24.80 billion. In light of more than a decade of rising handle, unions representing stable staff and exercise riders have been asking for a pay scale that reflected the improving economic picture in Japanese racing.

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