Time running out to protect NC kids from child labor
Today’s committee meeting was the last scheduled chance for a bill protecting child farmworkers from dangerous work to be heard. Why won’t the NC Farm Bureau and Department of Labor support an up-or-down vote?
RALEIGH (June 7, 2011) – Today’s House Agriculture Committee meeting may have marked North Carolina’s last chance this legislative session to protect kids by ending the practice of child labor on North Carolina farms.
But pressure from the NC Farm Bureau and Department of Labor prevented this common-sense legislation from reaching the floor for an up-or-down vote. Advocates say this is unfair to young farmworkers, who are already exempted from most basic health and safety regulations present in other industries.
Meanwhile, as school lets out, thousands of North Carolina children are preparing for a long, hot summer tending crops in 90-plus degree conditions.
“Child farmworkers deserve the same legal protections that child workers in every other industry have,” said Emily Drakage, executive director of the NC FIELD Coalition. “Young people want to work to help their families, and they deserve to do so with the same protections on farms that they would get working at McDonalds or at the mall.”
While children make up only a tiny fraction of the agricultural work force, they account for 20 percent of all deaths on the job in agriculture.
As an industry, Agriculture is exempt from most child labor laws. Under current law, children are allowed to work as paid employees at agricultural operations beginning at age 10.
The bill, HB 838, would remove the exemption for agriculture from child labor laws, in order to provide the same protections for children who work in agriculture as in all other industries. It would also preserve the exemption for children who work on their own family’s farm.
Despite extended negotiations with children’s advocates, farm interests and legislative leaders, entrenched powers seem intent on preventing the bill from coming to a vote before the legislative session’s crossover deadline. Negotiations broke down after the Farm Bureau took issue with protecting 13-year-olds.
Barring some special circumstance, today’s 1 p.m. meeting of the House Agriculture Committee was the last scheduled meeting where the bill to protect child farmworkers could be heard before the June 9 crossover deadline.
“The Farm Bureau and Department of Labor need to let this bill move forward,” said Fawn Pattison, director of Toxic Free NC. “Kids in North Carolina should be able to stay in school without being subject to dangerous or exploitive working conditions – and we deserve an up-or-down vote on this bill so any lawmaker who supports dangerous child labor can be held accountable.”
Though the last scheduled committee meeting has passed, advocates for the bill hold out hope the bill will be heard, either during a special meeting or if the crossover deadline is extended. Harry Payne, Senior Counsel for Policy & Law with the NC Justice Center, said that there is still ample time for committee members to discuss this bill.
“In this session, we have seen 90-page bill with enormous consequences passed in less than five minutes. Surely we can find time to hear a bill that protects children from workplace dangers,” said Payne.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Fawn Pattison, executive director, Toxic Free NC, 919.833.5333, firstname.lastname@example.org; Emily Drakage, executive director of the NC FIELD Coalition, 919.749.3629; Jeff Shaw, director of communications, NC Justice Center, 503.551.3615, email@example.com.