Child ag labor issue re-visited

The U.S. Department of Labor‘s Wage and Hour Division has announced that it will re-propose the portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the “parental exemption.” The decision to re-propose is in part a response to requests from the public and members of Congress that the agency allow an opportunity for more input on this aspect of the rule. Following the president’s historic executive order on regulation, issued in January 2011, this re-proposal reflects the department’s careful attention to public comments and its conclusion that it is appropriate to provide the public with further opportunities to participate in the regulatory process.

The parental exemption allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent. Congress created the parental exemption in 1966 when it expanded protections for children employed in agriculture and prohibited their employment in jobs the Department of Labor declared particularly hazardous for children under the age of 16 to perform.

The parental exemption was a source of considerable concern for many in agriculture.

“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,” said Bob Stallman, the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “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.”

The re-proposal process will seek comments and inputs as to how the department can comply with statutory requirements to protect children, while respecting rural traditions. The re-proposed portion of the rule is expected to be published for public comment by early summer. The department will continue to review the comments received regarding the remaining portions of the proposed rule for inclusion in a final rule.

Until the revised exemption is final, the Wage and Hour Division will apply the parental exemption to situations in which the parent or person standing in the place of a parent is a part owner of the farm, a partner in a partnership or an officer of a corporation that owns the farm if the ownership interest in the partnership or corporation is substantial. This approach is consistent with guidance the Wage and Hour Division has provided to the public on its website for the past several years.

“I want to applaud Secretary Solis and the Department of Labor for their decision to re-propose this portion of the rule to ensure kids across the nation have the opportunity to learn the value and reward of good old-fashioned farm work, while still providing protection to children from the most dangerous aspects of farming,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “The Labor Department listened to farmers and ranchers across the country. This announcement and the additional opportunity for comment represent a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.”

The department published and invited public comments on its proposed rule on child labor in agriculture on Sept. 2, 2011. The proposed rule aimed to increase protections for children working in agriculture while preserving the benefits that safe and healthy work can provide. The Wage and Hour Division was driven to update its 40-year-old child labor regulations by studies showing that children are significantly more likely to be killed while performing agricultural work than while working in all other industries combined. The department’s child labor in agriculture statutory authority extends only to children employed in agriculture who are 15 years of age or younger.

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