As harvest activity increases around the Mid-South, farmers and ginners are reminded of the need to comply with federal Wage and Hour Division laws regarding compensation for worker.

“Five or six years ago, we were seeing extremely low compliance within the ginning industry,” Eric Nash, investigator and outreach coordinator for the agency at Jackson, Miss., said at the joint meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and the Delta Council’s Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee at Stoneville, Miss.

“Since then, working together, we’ve now reached a point that the compliance rate is better than 70 percent. Your industry has done a really good job with this.”

Employers should be aware, Nash says, that the minimum wage was increased to $7.29 per hour July 24, and should also be conversant with rules regarding overtime pay.

“When our investigators look at cases involving overtime exemptions, we have most often found a misapplication of the regulations. Another key area is how bonus payments are handled. So, it’s important that you look closely at these regulations and keep good records to document what you do.”

Under the Migrant and Seasonal Worker Protection Act, employers must disclose to workers the rules under which they are employed, compensation, and conditions of employment, Nash notes, and this information must be provided in their native language (English or Spanish).

“If you plan to provide housing for migrant workers any time during the year, you need to contact our office at least 45 days before the workers arrive so a housing audit can be done.”

The housing audit involves a 92-item checklist that must be completed and approved before a housing permit can be issued.

Nash said employers also need to be cautious about hiring youngsters under 16 years of age, lest they violate child labor laws.

“There was a case in which a 14-year-old boy was hired to mow grass around the gin, which was a violation. You’re not allowed to hire anyone under 16 to operate any power-driven equipment.”

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com