During the press conference, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said she was “proud to announce that the (DOL) is proposing revisions to child labor regulations that would provide added safeguards for young workers employed in agriculture…

“Our proposal has important implications for those who work in agriculture. … We’re inviting the public to provide comment on its provisions.”

Solis said the proposed rules are “also part of our effort to better align the rules that apply agricultural employment with those that apply to the employment of children in non-agricultural work places.

“Children employed in agriculture are some of the most vulnerable workers in America. We cannot, and will not, stand by while so many of them continue to work in unsafe and unhealthy work places.

“Though the number of young, hired farm workers is relatively small, they’re employed in one of the most dangerous occupations. Their job duties can range from working with animals to pesticide handling, timber operations, grain bins and complex, power-driven equipment. These are activities best left to trained adults.”

In 2009, said Solis “we found egregious child labor among blueberry farms in several states across the country. We put a stop to it. We made sure employers understood the law and made sure workers understood it, too.

“It is important to note that our proposed rule is designed to strike the right balance. (It) doesn’t change the parental exemption, which allows the child of a farmer to do anything at any age, at any time of day, on a farm owned by his or her parents.”

The public comment period on the new regulations will run through Nov. 1. A public hearing will follow the comment period. The DOL says a complete list of the proposed revisions will be available in the Federal Register on Friday (September 2).

Asked how the new regulations might impact Latino children working U.S. farms, Hancock saidthe DOL’s intention “is to protect all children working in an agricultural setting.  Of course, Latino children and their families are heavily present in that industry. We expect they’ll be one of the primary beneficiaries of this. But the intent is to protect children and we think that’ll be accomplished by this.”

What about restrictions based on age?

All of what the DOL proposes “is within the confines of legislation,” said Hancock. “Legislation not only allows the children of farmers to work unimpeded on the (family) farm without any age restriction, (there are) a number of different exceptions that allow children even under 12 years old to work in agriculture under certain, circumscribed conditions. That’s been in the legislation since the beginning and nothing in (the new proposals) will disturb that.”

So, there’s no minimum age for children working a farm 12 hours a day?

“Again, the legislation is something that sets the parameters on what we can do,” replied Hancock. “Having said that, we think a number of these provisions will have a profound impact on children working in agriculture no matter their age – particularly for children of 14 and 15 years, who will now be prohibited from doing certain occupations they’ve heretofore been able to do.

“In addition, we’re asking for comments on a particular issue about whether or not certain conditions may persist in the agriculture work place that we should take a closer look at. Things like when the heat reaches a certain point and presents a hazard we need to look at.

Again, we think these are fairly sweeping protections we’re extending to all children in the agricultural work place without regard to age.”