Labor Department to re-propose parental exemption portion of agricultural child labor regulations

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 1 - The U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division today announced that it will re-propose the portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the "parental exemption.” The public, especially farming and ranching communities, criticized the farm labor rules proposed in Sept. 2011 that would have prevented many young people from working on family farms.

“I am glad the Department of Labor heard my concerns and the concerns of so many families in Michigan and decided to re-evaluate this rule,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.).Of course there should be safeguards to protect children from dangerous situations, but there needs to be an understanding that many children in rural communities learn about safety by helping their family on the farm.”

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According to the Department, a new “parental exemption” rule is expected to be proposed this summer. Today's announcement only applies to that portion of the new farm labor rules that considers the “parental exemption.”

The re-proposed rule reverts back to prior regulations, said Labor Department officials today, and uses broader language used before the 2011 proposals that include parents who are partial owners of an agricultural operation instead of only including whole owners.

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.

"Today's announcement to re-propose the parental exemption means the department will have the benefit of additional public comment, and the public will have an opportunity to consider a revised approach to this issue,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis.

Labor Department officials said 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.

However, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) today called on the department to simply withdraw the entire rule, calling it an “example of the kinds of burdensome and stupid regulations pouring out of this Administration.”

“While I am pleased the Department of Labor has listened to commonsense straight from America's farmers and ranchers, this proposed regulation would threaten the most fundamental tradition in agriculture-working on the family farm,” Roberts said, “I encourage them to scrap the whole thing and start over.”

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 after the release of studies showing that children are significantly more likely to be killed while performing agricultural work than while working in other industries. The department's statutory authority extends only to children employed in agriculture who are 15 years of age or younger.

A Dept. of Labor spokesman declined to say when or if the rest of the proposed rule would move forward, but suggested that the agency is still reviewing comments.

Congress, the Department of Agriculture and the public can continue to provide feedback on portions of the rule outside of the parental exemption before it is finalized.

Today's announcement to re-propose the parental exemption arrives a day before the House Committee on Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade meets for a hearing entitled The Future of the Family Farm: The Effect of Proposed DOL Regulations on Small Business Producers. The hearing will examine the Department's revisions to regulations pertaining to the employment of youths on farming and ranching operations.

“After much pressure from Congress and producers, DOL has finally acknowledged serious flaws with the parental exemption part of their regulation,” said Subcommittee Chairman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.). “However, this is only half a victory. There remains great concern about other parts of the rule pertaining to youth access to safety training programs and on-farm education and employment opportunities.  I believe, as the majority of American farmers do, that this rule altogether should never have been proposed.”


This story was updated at 4:28 p.m. EST 2/1/2012. 


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