What is in this article?:
• Farm country unhappy with proposed U.S. Department of Labor rules governing child labor on farms.
• Backlash from rural communities, agriculture advocacy groups, state and federal lawmakers.
• Legislation introduced in reaction to DOL proposals.
• DOL spokesperson responds.
While Farm Press was unable to get a formal interview with the DOL, a spokesperson said the department has received some 10,000 comments on the proposed rules. Currently in the process of “carefully” reviewing those comments, the DOL has not set a deadline for drafting a publishing a final rule.
When the new rules were first proposed last September, the DOL said children of farmers would be exempt. However, confusion remains about what exactly constitutes its parental exemption.
In February, the department said it would “re-propose the portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the 'parental exemption,' most likely in early summer,” according to the spokesperson. “After the notice of proposed rulemaking is published, the public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal.”
The DOL spokesperson said the proposed rule would “increase protections for children 15 years old and younger who are employed to work on a farm that isn't owned or operated by a parent or person standing in the place of a parent” and provided the following bullet-points:
• “Hired farm workers 15 years old or younger could work on farms and would only be prohibited from doing work that has been determined to be particularly hazardous.
• “Hired farm workers 15 years old or younger may operate tractors if they are bona-fide student learners, and if the tractor is equipped with seatbelts and rollover protection structures.
• “Hired workers under 18 years old could not work off a farm in silos, grain storage bins or manure pits, which present numerous hazards in many forms. Children 15 and younger could not do this work on or off a farm.”
The spokesperson said the proposed rules would not:
• “Eliminate 4-H, FFA or other agricultural education programs.
• “Prohibit children from doing their chores or from helping a neighbor in need, for example by rounding up livestock that have escaped.
• “Prohibit children from using wheelbarrows, flashlights or screwdrivers.
• “Eliminate the statutory parental exemption, which Congress established in 1966. Under the exemption, parents or persons standing in the place of a parent may employ their children to do any hazardous work on a farm that they own or operate. They are not required to comply with federal child labor regulations that prohibit children from performing hazardous work on a farm the parents own or operate.
“By statute, children 16 years of age and older may be employed on any farm to perform any job. The proposed rule would not change this. Most work on a farm is not hazardous, and kids as young as 12 may be employed to do it.”
Despite such assurances, in a policy statement the American Farm Bureau Federation said it “opposes the DOL proposal and is working in a bipartisan manner with members of both the House and Senate to ensure that the department does not narrow the family farm exemption or unduly limit employment opportunities for youths under age 16 on farms.”