DOL Proposes New Protections for Farm Workers
The move could significantly impact labor standards in the agricultural sector.
- By Robert Yaniz Jr.
- Sep 14, 2023
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has unveiled a proposal designed to enhance safeguards for agricultural workers, particularly those under the H-2A program, which permits foreign nationals to enter the U.S. for temporary agricultural work.
In a release dated Sept. 12, the DOL announced details of the proposal, which aims to counterbalance practices that could potentially suppress wages and erode labor standards for all agricultural workers. The new rules would include additional measures for worker self-advocacy and increased transparency in foreign labor recruitment.
Additionally, the proposal outlines clarifications regarding "for cause" terminations. One aspect involves stipulating that a worker can only be terminated "for cause" if they don't meet explicit productivity benchmarks or fail to adhere to employer policies following a structured system of progressive discipline.
The Department also seeks to rectify concerns around wage discrepancies by making updated wage rates effective immediately upon their Federal Register publication. To further ensure the safety of H-2A workers who often face long commutes in overcrowded vehicles, the introduction of a mandatory seat belt rule is also included in the proposal.
“Farm workers are vital to our farmers, our food supply and our communities,” Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su said in a statement. “This proposed rule would strengthen protections for H-2A farm workers who are particularly vulnerable to labor abuses, empower them to advocate for fair treatment and ensure that their employment does not depress labor standards and undercut domestic farm workers. The administration is committed to protecting all workers, and this proposal would significantly advance that effort.”
Furthermore, to ensure that agriculture workers are shielded from predatory practices during their recruitment, employers will be required to disclose all agreements made with recruiting agents, whether based in the US or abroad. The department aims to increase its enforcement measures to preserve the program's integrity.
The new rule will be open for public comment for 60 days upon its Federal Register publication, after which the department will review feedback before finalizing the regulations.
Robert Yaniz Jr. is the Content Editor of Occupational Health & Safety.