From RapidCityJournal.com, Andrea J. Cook, Journal staff, 29 Nov 2011.
Proposed changes in federal child labor rules threaten the very core of South Dakota family farm and ranch operations by limiting employing and training the next generation of producers, according to producers and others involved in agriculture.
South Dakota Secretary of Labor Pamela S. Roberts has also joined agricultural industry groups in registering concerns about the proposed changes to regulations governing child labor in agriculturally oriented operations.
In a recent letter to the U.S. secretary of labor, Roberts said the proposed regulations “are an example of overreaching regulation and threaten the very pillar of our rural community.”
While South Dakotans “appreciate the attempt to provide for the safety of our rural youths, the proposed rules overstep the bounds and result in unnecessary and overreaching regulations,” Roberts said.
The proposed rules would increase legal liabilities for farm families, according to the South Dakota Farm Bureau.
They also would severely restrict the role that hired youths younger than age 14 could have in an agricultural operation and limit some jobs for children under 16, unless the child is working only for a parent or guardian, according to Silvia Christen, executive director of the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association.
“We’re all for safety,” Christen said. Safety is always a concern, but limiting children’s opportunities to learn by working with equipment and livestock is contrary to the culture of agriculture in South Dakota, where families and neighbors frequently trade work, she said.
The new rules restrict the “Parental Exemption Rule” to the point that farms and ranches operated as a partnership or corporation likely would not be exempted. The Department of Labor intends to limit the exemption to the owner or operator of a farm or ranch.
Nieces, nephews and grandchildren working on a relative’s operation or the neighbor’s child hired because of his or her skill would now face further regulation.
Wayne Nelson of Langford and Bob Mack of Watertown have both hired young people to work on their farming and ranching operations.
Young people under the age of 16 are the most willing to work and the most trainable, they said.
“They pay attention and listen,” Mack said.
For the past two years, Nelson has employed a neighbor’s son. The boy has grown up on the farm and is a good worker.
“He does about everything. He cut and baled hay, and if something broke, he fixed it,” Nelson said.
Both men said they understand the importance of protecting young people and keeping them safe.
“You just don’t leave them alone” to do a job, Nelson said. “That’s just common sense.”
Modern farming equipment is considerably safer than it was in the past, Mack said.
“Any responsible farmer or rancher out there is going to hands-on instruct younger operators, and they’re not going to allow them to take on things above their ability,” Mack said. “You just don’t.”
The rules would further restrict youths’ involvement with not only equipment, but also working around livestock.
“They basically have put some pretty severe restrictions on children, especially under the age of 14, but some over the age of 16 of handling any type of large livestock, which they are defining to include cattle after they’ve calved, bulls … working in confined space with any type of large animal,” Christen said. Children would not be allowed in confined spaces with animals — for example, a child in a stall with a horse, or a cow that has calved — she said.
“Also, they wouldn’t be allowed to ride horses in order to trail cattle,” Christen said. “That is something on our ranches that is an essential part of the work that needs to be done.”
Most children are in more danger on a four-wheeler than on a horse, Mack said.
There is also concern about the impact the rules would have on FFA and 4-H programs that require youths to work in agriculture to be successful.
“If we can’t hire them anymore, I think it’s very restrictive to the quality of those programs,” Christen said.
The proposed rules fail to take into account the “unique nature of the rural farm family,” Roberts said in her letter asking the Labor Department to reconsider the rule changes.
It also endangers one of the most sought–after qualities in South Dakota’s young people – their work ethic, Mack said.
Employers want to hire people from farm and ranch backgrounds in the Dakotas because they are “responsible, hard-working and competent,” Mack said.
“The reason they are is that at a young age they all developed a work ethic and learned how to accept and handle responsibility.”
The final day to submit comments on the proposed rule changes is Thursday. Comments can be made online at www.regulations.gov/#!submitComment;D=WHD-2011-0001-0001.
Contact Andrea Cook at 394-8423 or firstname.lastname@example.org.