American Farm Bureau Federal Issue Update: Child Labor

AFBF President
Bob Stallman

On Sept. 2, 2011, the Department of Labor (DOL) released a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would affect the employment of youth in agriculture. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits youth under the age of 16 to work in agriculture, but also authorizes the secretary of labor to designate certain activities or occupations that may be “particularly hazardous” and to prohibit youth from being employed in such jobs. Such restrictions do not apply to youths employed on farms owned or operated by their parents or individuals standing in place of their parents.  DOL proposal would greatly restrict permissible jobs for youths under 16, in addition to narrowing the parental exemption; DOL also appears to be soliciting comments on expanded restrictions, including prohibiting youth in some circumstances from working in extreme temperatures and being paid piece rates.

Farm Bureau and more than 70 other agricultural organizations filed extensive comments with DOL objecting to the proposals. These agricultural organizations represent the breadth of nearly every commodity and region.

Last week, DOL decided to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ rule, which which prohibits youth from doing various farm activities on farms at which they don’t reside. American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman released the following statement regarding the issue.

“The decision today by the Labor Department to re-propose the ‘parental exemption’ in the child labor rule is a positive step, but much more work is needed. We will continue to work with the administration to address our concerns with the rule. Any final regulation must make sense, not infringe on the traditional rights of family farms and not unnecessarily restrict the ability of young people to work in agriculture. As DOL’s proposed rule stands currently, that is not the case.

“Farm work has always played a significant role in the lives of rural youth across the country, whether they are milking cows on their grandparents’ farm or harvesting apples as a summer job. DOL’s rule would have a detrimental effect on family farms and would create an even tighter supply of farm labor when it’s already in short supply.

“Farm and ranch families are more interested than anyone else in assuring the safety of farming operations. We have no desire at all to have young teenagers working in jobs that are inappropriate or entail too much risk. But, laws and regulations need to be sensible and within reason—not prohibiting teenagers from performing simple everyday farm functions like operating a battery-powered screwdriver.

“We appreciate Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s diligent work on the issue and look forward to working with USDA and DOL further on establishing a rule that respects the importance of youth farm work in rural America and the importance it plays in our system of family-based agriculture.”

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