The House of Representatives Small Business Committee’s Agriculture Subcommittee held a hearing yesterday on the effects of proposed child labor regulations on small-business producers. The hearing comes a day after the Department of Labor announced it would re-propose the “parental exemption” portion of the regulation related to minors working on the farm, seeking additional comments and modifications to “ensure protection of both children and rural values.”
Members in the subcommittee hearing heard testimony from Department of Labor and USDA officials. The announcement from the Department of Labor, also discussed during the hearing, will again allow children of any age to work on a farm as long as it is owned by a parent or someone acting as a parent. The regulation last fall required any farm worker to be at least 16. Witnesses representing the FFA and family farmers explained how these regulations would hinder their operation and their children’s experiences both on and off the farm if they were not changed.
The DOL said the re-proposed portion of the rule will be available for comment in the summer. 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 by the parent or the person in place of the parent.
The Department said its decision came partly because of feedback from the public and Members of Congress following the publication of a proposed rule on child labor, issued in September.
The fall proposal was intended to make farm work safer for children, but largely overlooked the fact that most modern farms are enterprises encompassing extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and long-time, but unrelated, farm workers. Farm groups, including National Association of Wheat Growers and National Corn Growers Association, believed it would have had sweeping impact on farm operations, rural economies and valuable educational opportunities for children in rural communities participating in 4-H and FFA programs.
DOL said the re-proposal “will seek comments and inputs as to how the department can comply with statutory requirements to protect children, while respecting rural traditions.”
Until the rule under consideration is final, DOL also said it will interpret the parental exemption as it has in recent years.
Montana Senator Jon Tester told Labor Secretary Hilda Solis that the proposed rule threatens Montana’s agricultural tradition, denies teenagers critical life skills and lessons and denies them the opportunities for farm work that is vital for teenagers individual growth.
“I know personally the importance of agricultural work to the personal development of young people in rural America,” Tester wrote to Solis. “By placing federal regulations between rural youth and activities that are essential to their personal development, the Department of Labor is crossing a line that should not be crossed.”
Tester noted that while it’s important to keep our young people safe, it’s essential to expose them to valuable opportunities that develop a deep and long-lasting respect for work.
In a statement, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack applauded the Department for listening to farmers and ranchers and said the additional commenting period represents “a common-sense approach to strengthen our agricultural economy while keeping farm kids safe.”
Source: National Association of Wheat Growers & National Corn Growers Association & Office of Senator Jon Tester