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Public divided over proposed FLSA regulations on youth and ag work

Agriculture is an important industry in Wisconsin, and proposed regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act would limit the ability of youth to work in agriculture. As a result the public is divided over the potential safety benefits the regulations could bring and some family farm practicalities the proposed regulations may impede.

The proposed regulations would change the current rules on underage workers with jobs that fall into "hazardous occupation" categories under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The proposed regulations would prohibit workers under the age of 16 from performing certain duties unless the underage worker is under the supervision of their parent or guardian. Some believe the rule changes will significantly limit the ability of young people under the age of 18 to work on farms or in the agriculture industry.

Government officials say the proposed regulations are necessary because of safety concerns but the regulations would also realign the rules for farm-related jobs with those outside of the agriculture industry. Historically agriculture has been a dangerous sector for younger workers. Last year was the deadliest year for grain bin accidents and one 14-year-old boy and one 19-year-old boy were among those who died on the job. Overall, agriculture has the second highest fatality rate among young workers ages 15 to 24 according to the American Medical Association.

Some parents see the proposed regulations as an improvement. One parent who lives in a rural community commented on the differences between young workers in agriculture and young workers in non-agricultural fields, "My son couldn't even cut the grass for his fast food employer but his classmates the same age were driving huge tractors on the road and operating dangerous farm equipment."

If adopted, the regulations will prevent children under the age of 16 from the operation of tractors, power-driven equipment, ATV's, lawn mowers, milking machines and self-unloading wagons. Workers under the age of 18 will not be able to work in stockyards, grain elevators and livestock auctions.

Source: fdlreporter.com, "Farm work rule changes would impact youth workers," Colleen Kottke, Nov. 7, 2011

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