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Labor Department tackles wage and hour enforcement at farms

While it is not currently slated to occur in Wisconsin, the United States Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division is executing an initiative on labor law compliance in the agricultural industry along the East Coast. The initiative is being conducted to ensure compliance among employers and to remind workers about their rights under the Fair Labor Standards Act, Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act and the Occupational Safety and Health Act's Field Sanitation Standard.

A regional administrator of the Wage and Hour Division said the Labor Department was conducting the initiative because the agricultural industry employs a large number of low-wage and vulnerable workers. The Department of Labor is also operating the initiative to make sure that employers who do follow the law are not put at a disadvantage by employers who do not.

In carrying out the initiative, Labor Department investigators are visiting fields and packing houses to review compliance. In addition inspections of field sanitation facilities, employment practices, pay records and transportation are also being conducted.

So far, the Department of Labor has conducted 20 investigations and has recovered over $670,000 in back wages for 590 agricultural workers under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The most common violations were incidents of non-compliance with the federal minimum wage law and overtime law.

The Fair Labor Standards Act set the federal standard for minimum wage, overtime and child labor laws. It prohibits workers under the age of 16 from working in hazardous conditions but allows individuals who are ages 12 to 16 to do farm work subject to certain rules.

Source: The Moultrie Observer, "U.S. Labor Dept. moving farm enforcement sweep up the East Coast," 6/29/11

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