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30 years after Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act is passed, farmworkers need more safeguards

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, a commonsense safeguard that requires farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and establishes employment standards for the wages, housing and transportation of their workers. Three decades later, these rules continue to protect farm workers from unethical businesses practices by mandating greater accountability and transparency from employers. But they don’t go far enough.

In the past 30 years, little has changed in terms of providing real protections for farmworkers.

Federal OSHA has failed to enact a standard to prevent heat stress, leaving thousands of workers vulnerable to heat-related illnesses or even death. The agency has granted few other protections to keep migrant farmworkers safe. National COSH urges the agency to enact rules that would codify into law the recommendations that OSHA already makes, such as requiring rest breaks and access to adequate water and shade under particularly hot working conditions.

Not even our country’s youngest workers are adequately protected. The agribusiness lobby has prevented even very young teens working in agriculture from getting much needed new protections from dangerous work. Under pressure from the powerful agribusiness lobby, the Obama administration withdrew a proposal last spring that would have restricted child workers from the most dangerous tasks in agriculture. National COSH urges the administration to once again issue a proposal to protect workers – as young as 12 years old – who toil on farms across the nation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stalled on issuing a new Worker Protection Standard (WPS) for farmworkers working with pesticides. Though the agency has indicated a 2013 goal for proposing the WPS, it failed to reach its previous goal for the standard, which was May 2012. EPA must still subject the rule to final intra-agency review, send it for additional review to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and have the EPA administrator sign it, Inside Washington reports. Inside Washington says the goals of this standard are: training workers better "by improving training content and quality, and addressing current regulatory gaps"; protecting workers better "during Restricted Entry Intervals (REIs)"; protecting workers better during pesticide applications; improving hazard communication protections; and improving the "effectiveness of safety poster & emergency information."

National COSH urges the EPA to meet its 2013 goal and move to protect farmworkers from exposure to pesticides.

While the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act is an important law to protect those toiling in the fields to provide the nation with its agricultural goods, these protections are in dire need of an update. From 12-year-olds to workers ready to retire, far too many farmworkers are unnecessarily exposed to hazards.

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