Small Town News

Labor

Contractor licensing benefits farmers and farm workers

The Aberdeen Times of Aberdeen, Idaho

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State law requires farm labor contractors to pay the minimum wage, provide safe working conditions pay a bond and ensure that farm workers know and understand the conditions of employment before accepting work.

"Idaho farmers and farm workers should make the contractors they deal with comply with the law," Department of Labor Director Roger B. Madsen said. "Idaho farmers need to understand if their labor contractor fails to register with the state, the farmers themselves are liable for any unpaid wages owed to workers."

In addition to wage, working conditions, bonding and licensing requirements, farm labor contractors must give workers information on safety requirements, workplace standards and, if appropriate, housing conditions.

Information on the Idaho Department of Labor's Farmworker Services Program, including the list of currently licensed farm labor contractors, is available online at http://labor.idaho.gov/dnn/idl/JobSeekers/FarmWorkerServices/tabid/660/Default. aspx.

Working conditions should comply with federal laws that prohibit exposure of workers and others during chemical application. Worker entry into areas after fields have been treated should be restricted. Workers should receive information on how to protect themselves from chemicals and mitigate exposure. Chemical application safety posters must be posted, and workers must receive chemical application safety training and have access to information on labeling and where chemicals are being applied.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) minimum field sanitation standards apply to Idaho farms and ranches as well. Operators and labor contractors must make readily available to field crews an adequate amount of cool drinking water and disposable single-use cups. They are also legally required to provide one toilet and hand-washing facility for every crew of 11 to 20 workers within a quarter-mile walk or at the closest point of vehicular access, whichever is closer.

The Idaho Department of Labor's monitor advocate, agricultural outreach workers and labor law compliance officers monitor farms and ranches to ensure compliance with the standards. Violators are reported to federal enforcement authorities.

"Agriculture is a major component of Idaho's economy, and its productivity relies heavily on the thousands of field workers hired every season for everything from harvesting cherries to blocking sugar beets," Madsen said. "Ensuring their safety is of paramount importance."

Details on the field sanitation standards can be found online at http://www.dol.gov/esa/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs51.pdf.

Workers must be notified in writing, in Spanish if requested, by farmers and farm labor contractors of their wage rates and when they will be paid. They must be paid at least $7.25 an hour, covered by workers' compensation insurance and payday must be at least once a month. Only cattle and sheep herders are exempt from the minimum wage law.

Crews agreeing to work on a piece-rate basis must receive the equivalent of at least $7.25 an hour. Workers are encouraged to maintain employment records including when they started and stopped working, the times lunch breaks begin and end and, if appropriate, piece-rate units performed each day.

Farmers and contractors can deduct from worker pay only items authorized by state or federal law such as income and Social Security taxes. Any other deductions must first be authorized by workers in writing.

If housing is part of the employment agreement, farmers must ensure workers receive that information in writing and in advance. Housing must meet federal and state safety and health standards, and statements outlining the terms and conditions of occupancy must be posted where the housing units are located.

Contractors must have proof of insurance for all vehicles used to transport farm laborers.

Questions about wages, working conditions and contractor registration can be answered by Idaho Department of Labor representatives at any of the 25 local offices around the state. Information is also online at http://labor.idaho.gov/dnn/idl/LaborLaws/tabid/667/Default.aspx.

Workers who believe they are not being paid at least the minimum wage can file a wage claim with the Idaho Department of Labor, either directly at a local office, on the Internet at http://labor.idaho.gov/applications/whclaim/home.aspx or by contacting the Wage and Hour Section toll free at (800) 843-3193 or the migrant seasonal farm worker advocate at (800) 628-6319.

Generally speaking, agricultural employees are exempt from mandatory overtime pay. But for verification of exemptions, farmers and farm workers should contact the U. S. Department of Labor at dol.gov/esa or call toll-free (866) 487-9243.



Copyright 2010 The Aberdeen Times, Aberdeen, Idaho. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: March 31, 2010



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