child labor

I saw a report on the Jon Stewart “The Daily Show” about child workers on a Tobacco farm. As all interviews with the show it was humorous and raised the question why is this allowed to be in the US. It started me on a research project to find other industries if any that allow children under the legal age to work that do not have to abide by the child labor laws of this country. Here are some of the industries that I have found.

Family Businesses – If you work for you parents of other family members then you don’t have to obey the same laws for child labor. This can be harmful since working 20 hours a week for an underage minor may not apply to some places. Also family businesses don’t have to offer health care services like other businesses have to offer now. They don’t have to pay social security tax, federal unemployment tax, or medicare tax on the wages of its minor family members. The Fair Labor Standards Act also doesn’t mean anything to family businesses.

Other Occupations- The FLSA doesn’t apply for children who work in the entertainment industry such as performers in radio, television,and theater. Children under the age of 14 can work in this industry and also deliver newspapers,babysit or work at home.

Agriculture Farming In some state girls and boys as young as twelve years old can work in the industry of agriculture picking fruits and vegetables. I thought the days of having children working on the farm was over, but in some states like Hawaii children can pick a coffee as young as 10 years old. To add onto this 10 state and the Federal gov’t set no cap on the number of hours per day and per week children can work on the farm. They are also paid $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of employment, but hand-harvesters of all ages are paid by the numbers of containers filled. Teens ages 15-17 working on farms were four times more likely to die on the job rather than teens who worked in other industries according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the Missouri director of Labor Standards there used to be random inspections to make sure the laws were upheld. Now inspections only occur after a complaint is raised.

Tobacco Farming- Can an 11-year-old work in the US? In most places the answer is an obvious nobut in Snow Hill, North Carolina Jessica Rodriguez spent five summer six days a week working on a tobacco farm. “It was hard. It was definitely hard,” she remembers. “We had a good boss lady — she bought us lunch every day. But remember, you’re sitting there eating lunch with tobacco gum all over your hands.” They worked 12 hour days from 6am or 7am to 6pm and 7pm at night. They work under harsh conditions and when researchers interviewed 141 of the children between the ages of 7 through 17 and found that almost 75% of them reported symptoms such as vomiting, nauseaheadachedizziness, skin rashes and burning eyes. They also suffer from acute nicotine poisoning, green tobacco sickness or GTS. “About half the kids we interviewed said they saw tractors come through the fields where they were working, or nearby fields, spraying pesticides,” Wurth said. “And the children said they could smell and taste and feel the chemical spray as it drifted toward them.”

U.S. Labor laws, she says, do not protect these kids.

According to the report:

— Children as young as 12 can work unlimited hours on any size farm as long as they have a parent’s permission.

— Children of any age can work in any job on a farm owned by their parents.

— There is no minimum age for children to work on small farms.

— At 16, children working on farms can do jobs considered hazardous by the Department of Labor. Children working outside agriculture must be at least 18 to do hazardous work.

The Federal Youth Employment Laws in Farm Jobs, while setting standards for youth employment in agriculture, does not specifically address tobacco farms. But the Department of Labor released a statement addressing the Human Rights Watch report:

A 16-year-old worker harvests tobacco on a farm in Kentucky.
A 16-year-old worker harvests tobacco on a farm in Kentucky.

“Our job at the Department of Labor is to ensure that agricultural employers keep their workers, regardless of age, safe on the job, housed in safe and sanitary residential facilities, and pay them their legally-required wages,” the government agency said. “The Department especially takes seriously its role in ensuring that employers operate in compliance with all appropriate laws and rules with respect to young workers.”

“We’ve concluded that any tasks where kids come into direct contact with tobacco plants or dried tobacco leaves pose hazards to their health,” Wurth said. “We want companies to make clear that kids cannot work in jobs where they are exposed to these dangers and then to communicate this to the growers and their supply chains to make sure the growers know these rules and follow them.”

The Obama administration tried to make changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, but they were met with fierce opposition by ranchers, farmers and farm-state legislators. Under pressure they withdrew their proposals and promised not to bring them up again until after Obama’s second term.  Some congressmen like Lucille Roybal-Allard and other representatives want to reintroduce the CARE Act, which would prohibit children under 14 from working. It would also the age to 18 yrs old for legally working on a farm and ban 17 dangerous tasks from being performed. “For over a decade, we’ve been trying to spread the word that a 12-year-old can work unlimited hours as long as school is not in session, under harsh conditions in the fields — and nobody seems to care,”.

Human Rights Watch shared its report with 10 companies that buy tobacco grown in the United States.

“Nine of the 10 companies responded and all are concerned about child labor, but none of them have policies that specifically protect children from the hazards we identified in our research,” Wurth said.

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