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Child labor law on hold

Parents of children who work on a family farm or are in ag education programs should review proposed changes to child labor laws to understand how the new rules could affect them.

Because the proposed rule changes are 51 pages long, not many people understand exactly what’s being presented. The changes not only hold the potential for positive effects but also major negative effects to youth younger than 16 who seek work or are now working in agriculture.

While the federal Agricultural Hazardous Occupations Order was written to protect children from dangerous situations, it could prevent many young people from working on family farms or participating in ag-related educational programs.

In February, the U.S. Department of Labor temporarily shelved the proposed legislation after complaints that it would erode the tradition of children working on their family-owned farm. Although department officials agreed to reinstate a “parental exemption” that would allow parents to assign on-farm duties to their children, many other proposed rule changes could further restrict young people from working in agriculture.

Under the proposed changes, the “parental exemption” itself would not apply to incorporated family farms. Many small family farms are incorporated because of the tax advantages. But when a farm is incorporated, parents are considered a corporate entity and would not be covered by the parental exemption. Due to negative feedback from producer groups, the Labor Department has backed off on this provision as it relates to incorporated farms, but a revision has not been published yet.

Educational efforts, such as 4-H and FFA’s Supervised Ag Experience program, in which some students work on a farm or in another ag business, also could be affected by proposed changes.

While the rules that have been proposed aren’t ready to pass without some revisions, farm safety specialists say it’s time to update farm youth labor legislation. Current rules haven’t been updated since the 1960s. Even though there are significant concerns with many of the proposed rule changes, there is a need to review and revise the current rules to reflect changes in agricultural production practices and technology since the original rules were adopted more than 45 years ago.

The public comment period has passed, but those favoring or opposing the new legislation can contact their congressmen or senators. The proposed regulations can be read at www.tinyurl.com/3ohycak.

Source: Purdue Extension

This article published in the April, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.