Public Stirred Up Over Potential Changes In Child Labor Laws

Public Stirred Up Over Potential Changes In Child Labor Laws

Is it too little too late, or is there still time for change?

 A groundswell of concern and negative opinion over the proposed changes in labor laws affecting youth in agriculture proposed by the U.S. Department of Labor has finally reached the countryside. The discussion is starting at coffee shops, and questions are pouring in to ag teachers, extension educators and even across our desk about concerns should this rule be allowed to stand as proposed.

The question is whether the concern is too little too late. This is not legislation- it's part of a rule proposed by the Department of Labor, which has final say on the wording and enforcement of the rule. The public was allowed a comment period, extended to Dec 1 from Nov 1, but it has now expired. Unfortunately, the crescendo is just now reaching its peak in the countryside as more people find out about the proposed ruling, and realize what it could mean to farm families and organizations that serve youth in agriculture.

Part of the proposed rule would prevent children under 18 from driving a tractor except on the family farm. The exemptions are so tightly worded that if your family is actually a farm corporation, you would not qualify for the exemption. There are other restrictions, most of them limiting activities to youth 18 or older, although a few allow youth to participate in ag activities at age 16.

If you think there is no way the Department of Labor could police such rules to enforce them, you're probably right. However, Megan Ritter with Indiana Farm Bureau says that they do have enough personnel to do spot checks. If they deem it necessary, they can prosecute violators to send a message.

Other observers say that's not the primary way the rule will be enforced. Instead, it will create a liability issue for Hoosier farmers. If someone disregards the new rules, should they become effective, and a youth in violation of the rules is involved in an accident, that's when the enforcement will occur. It may be more risk than most farmers and farm families want to take.

The rule is not in effect yet. The process calls for review of comments. The Department of Labor can announce that the rule goes into effect tin its original form, or they can modify the original proposal. Stay tuned for more details.
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