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December 07, 2016
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Farm youth work directive reversed; opponents say decision is bad for young migrant workers

CAMP HILL, PA — The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (PFB) joined other state farm bureaus in a campaign that successfully reversed a U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) directive that would have placed limits on the ability of youth to work on family farms. The DOL regulation would have also jeopardized the role of parents in teaching their children the value of on-the-farm work, PFB officials said.

However, some are criticizing the move because they claim it will leave migrant workers, especially young, inexperienced ones, vulnerable to serious harm and injury that the regulations were intended to avoid. Opponents add further that the majority of complaints came from chambers of commerce and large farming companies more interested in profits than safety.

Supporters of the reversal say families made the difference.
“The decision is a major victory for farm families in Pennsylvania and across the nation,” said PFB President Carl T. Shaffer. “Farmers played a huge role in influencing the decision to withdraw the proposed regulations, as thousands of farmers submitted comments to DOL, pointing out flaws and potential unintended consequences in the proposed rules.”

“This is an important decision that will help anyone beginning a farm business,” said Brian Smith, chairman of the Wayne County Commissioners, who is also a dairy farmer. “Today, to make a dairy farm a success, it has to be a family effort where the older children can help with the chores. It’s also important that parents have a chance to introduce them to the advantages and disadvantages of farm life, which they could not do if children were not allowed to share the work.”

Smith said that there were courses in farm safety practices that children can take at numerous places in the county. “Safety practices on the farm are extremely important,” he said.

The PA Farm Bureau, along with a score of other state bureaus, raised concerns about the proposal last December when it submitted written comments to the DOL and during the testimony in February before the U.S. House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade.

“The proposal brought into question whether children of farmers, whose businesses were part of a family partnership, limited liability company or family farm corporation, could allow their own children to perform typical farm chores, such as milking cows, if they were under the age of 16,” Shaffer said.

PFB also was troubled by a proposed rule that would have severely restricted non-farm youths involved in Future Farmers of America (FFA) and 4-H programs from working with any livestock for the purpose of agriculture education.

“The next generation of farmers will likely come from children raised on farms as well as others who are exposed to agriculture during their youth,” Shaffer said. “We must continue to support programs that encourage people to pursue careers in agriculture.”

Farm bureau officials noted that safety on the farm remains a top priority for all workers, especially children. “Responsible farmers are not going to allow their children or any other youngsters to take on a task that they are not capable of doing safely,” Shaffer said. “We are pleased that DOL has recognized the benefit of working with farm organizations, such as farm bureau, FFA, 4-H and others to improve already effective farm-youth safety programs.”

On the other hand, David Strauss, executive director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, which is an advocate organization for migrant and seasonal farm workers in the United States, said, “We are profoundly disappointed the administration will not be pursuing the proposed protections for children employed in agriculture. These were common sense protections that would have saved many children’s lives.”

According to a press release on the AFOP website, an exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 protects the tradition of children working on their parents’ farm and, according to the DOL factsheet on the bill, the agricultural protections would have only applied “to those children involved in an employer/employee relationship.”

Read a factsheet on this bill.