U.S. Labor Department to re-propose portion of agriculture child labor rule

News
Feb 3, 2012
by WLJ
The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Wage and Hour Division announced Wednesday, Feb. 1 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. This reproposal 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.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Bill Donald commended American farmers and ranchers for making their voices heard on the proposed rule, which could have restricted, and in some instances to tally prevented, America’s youth from working on farms and ranches.

“You’ve all probably heard of the Department of Labor’s proposed rule that would prevent youth under the age of 15 from working on farms and ranches. The department announced this afternoon that they will re-evaluate the original proposal. This is big news. Your voices—our voices— were heard,” he said.

“This issue goes to the very fiber of who we are in this country. It goes right to the fact that businesses are looking to fill positions with farm and ranch kids because they have a work ethic. They do their chores before they get on the school bus and do them again when they get home. So thanks to all of you, the Department of Labor listened finally.”

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 DOL declared particularly hazardous for children under the age of 16 to perform.

The re-proposal process will seek comments and input as to how the department can comply with statutory requirements to protect children, while respecting rural traditions. The reproposed portion of the rule is expected to be published for public comment by early summer 2012. The department will continue to review the comments received regarding the remaining portions of the proposed rule for inclusion in a final rule.

According to Donald, the proposed rule failed to take into consideration youth working for an aunt or uncle or for a partnership with which their family is involved. He added, in rural America, working on a neighbors’ farm or ranch is a way of life and taking away that opportunity for America’s youth would result in fewer people entering into production agriculture.

Despite the positive move, Donald said the agency did not go far enough and should scrap the provision completely.

“Rather than strapping our hands behind our backs and preventing American youth from learning the ropes of food and fiber production from today’s farmers and ranchers, the department should scrap this provision completely. Instead, it should work with farmers and ranchers to ensure the rules on the books are workable.

“Rules and regulations, including those related to America’s youth working on farms and ranches, need to ensure safe working conditions. But the original proposal simply goes too far.

Cattlemen’s voices were heard today. We will continue working to ensure our kids and grandkids have the opportunity to earn a living producing the safest, most nutritious beef in the world.” — WLJ

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