The U.S. Department of Labor is finally proposing revisions to child labor regulations that affect young employees in agriculture-related fields, after the bill was held up in red tape for nine months at the White House. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does prevent children from working in certain jobs that are deemed too dangerous, but this legislation has not been updated since its inception in 1970. The proposed legislation sets aside certain tasks that would be off limits to workers under the ages of sixteen and eighteen, as well as some jobs altogether. According to a U.S. DOL news release, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis added, "Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America. Ensuring their welfare is a priority of the department, and this proposal is another element of our comprehensive approach."
The legislation revisions proposed would prohibit child agricultural work with animals, pesticide handling, timber, manure pits and storage bins, as well as prohibiting these employees from using electronic devices while operating power-driven equipment. Additionally, agricultural employees under the age of 16 would no longer be permitted to cultivate, harvest, or cure tobacco, or operate most power-driven equipment. For 18-year-olds, the new revisions would prohibit them from being employed in the storing, marketing, or transportation of farm product raw materials. Furthermore, grain elevators and bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards and livestock exchanges and auctions would be off-limits to nonagricultural workers under 18.
Though there have been marked decreases in workplace injuries and fatalities in child labor over the last decade, agriculture retains the second-highest fatality rate among youth workers, giving them a fatality rate that is almost six times the average across all industries. The Fair Labor Standards Act establishes a minimum age of 18 for hazardous work in nonagricultural employment and 16 in agricultural employment. Once agricultural workers reach age 16, they are no longer subject to the FLSA's child labor provisions. In addition, these revisions do not apply to children working on farms owned by their parents.
This legislation is a much-needed response to the sometimes-fatal accidents that regularly befall young workers in dangerous fields like agriculture. As well as setting child labor standards, the Fair Labor Standards Act sets a federal minimum wage, an overtime of one-and-one-half times the regularly hourly rate for hours worked over 40 hours/week, and forces employers to post FLSA regulations and keep detailed records of employee time and pay records. If you believe that you or a loved one is an employee of a company that is violating federal labor standards, contact a knowledgeable FLSA attorney to see if you are eligible to receive compensation for unpaid overtime or underpayment.