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Farm youth work directive reversed; opponents say decision is bad for young migrant workers

May 9, 2012

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.