Farmers and ginners who hire laborers during the harvesting and ginning season need to be sure they’re in compliance with all the rules and regs related to compensation, migrant housing, and child labor.

Failure to comply can result in penalties, says Eric Nash, assistant district director for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division at Jackson, Miss.

“Mississippi farmers have made tremendous improvements in compliance in the last eight years,” he said at the joint annual meeting of the Southern Cotton Ginners Association and the Delta Council’s Ginning and Cotton Quality Improvement Committee at Stoneville, Miss. “But every employer needs to be aware of these laws and take the necessary steps to comply.”

Accurate recordkeeping of salaries, wages, and bonuses is a must, Nash says.

“Each year, we find recordkeeping violations. Detailed, up-to-date records of hours worked and wages paid can offer protection for you and the employee in case questions arise.”

The current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, he notes, and all workers must be paid at least that amount.

Employers must also be sure to comply with rules regarding overtime and bonuses, Nash says. “If there are questions about how these should be handled, don’t hesitate to contact us for assistance rather than risk incurring a penalty.”

Although the sharp decline in cotton acres has resulted in fewer migrant workers being used by farmers and ginners, he says those hiring such workers must be sure to follow regulations regarding compensation and housing, if such facilities are provided.

If a worker is away from his place of residence overnight, he is considered migrant labor, Nash notes.

Among other requirements, “If you offer housing to workers, you must complete a 96-item inspection 45 days before workers occupy the housing.”

Investigators continue to see occasional violations of child labor regulations, he says.

“These are pretty specific as to what youngsters can and cannot do, so please be aware of these rules.”

Labor-related questions may be directed to Wage and Hour Division district offices in each state. Telephone numbers are: Mississippi, (601) 965-4347; Arkansas, (501) 223-9114; Tennessee, (901) 544-3418; Louisiana, (504) 589-6171; and Missouri, (314) 539-2706. The nationwide number is 866/487-9243.

e-mail: hbrandon@farmpress.com