International Labour Organizaton (ILO) Experts Comment on U.S. Government Efforts to Implement Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor

[Adopted in 2016 and published in 2017]
 
Articles 4(1), 5 and 7(1) of the Convention. Determination of types of hazardous work, monitoring mechanisms and penalties. Hazardous work in agriculture from 16 years of age. The Committee previously noted that section 213 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) permits children aged 16 years and above to undertake, in the agricultural sector, occupations declared to be hazardous or detrimental to their health or well-being by the Secretary of Labor. The Government, referring to Paragraph 4 of the Worst Forms of Child Labour Recommendation, 1999 (No. 190), stated that Congress considered it as safe and appropriate for children from the age of 16 years to perform work in the agricultural sector. However, the Committee noted the allegation of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) that a significant number of children under 18 years were employed in agriculture under dangerous conditions, including long hours and exposure to pesticides, with risk of serious injury. The Committee also took note of the observations of the International Organisation of Employers (IOE) and the United States Council for International Business (USCIB) that section 213 of the FLSA, which was the product of extensive consultation with the social partners, is in compliance with the text of the Convention and Paragraph 4 of Recommendation No. 190.
 
The Committee took note that the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) continued to focus on improving the safety of children working in agriculture and protecting the greatest number of agricultural workers. In addition, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) increased its focus on agriculture by creating the Office of Maritime and Agriculture (OMA) in 2012, which is responsible for the planning, development and publication of safety and health regulations covering workers in the agricultural industry, as well as guidance documents on specific topics, such as ladder safety in orchards and tractor safety.
 

The Committee also noted the Government’s detailed information concerning the intensification of its efforts to protect young agricultural workers’ occupational safety and health. While welcoming such measures, the Committee reminded the Government that work in agriculture was found to be “particularly hazardous for the employment of children” by the Secretary of Labor. In this regard, according to the website of the OSHA, agriculture ranked among the most dangerous industries.
 
The Committee notes the Government’s statement in its report that it remains firmly committed to seeking improvements in child labour safety and health, in particular in agriculture, in full compliance with the requirements of Convention No. 182. There have been numerous increases in the protections of children in both law and practice relating to agricultural work. Chief among these efforts, the WHD continues to focus on improving the safety of children working in agriculture, building upon the Agency’s long history of protecting workers, especially children, in the industry. One of the WHD’s key strategies is to use education and outreach to promote understanding of agricultural employers’ and workers’ rights and responsibilities alike. For example, the WHD provides guidance on child labour laws to youth, parents, educators and employers through its YouthRules! website, a comprehensive site providing information and resources for youth at work. The WHD provides a variety of fact sheets and e tools to employers and young workers to inform and train employers and young workers in a wide range of occupations, including agricultural occupations. In this regard, both the WHD, OSHA and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), continue to engage in extensive outreach activities to reach young workers, such as career expositions and fairs, training seminars, and youth programmes to keep young persons under 18 safe and healthy on the job and to make them aware of their rights under the OSH Act. For example, OSHA and NIOSH have collaborated to inform young workers about the hazards of tobacco farming, providing information about green tobacco sickness as many young workers work in tobacco harvesting fields in the United States. Information on green tobacco sickness is highlighted on OSHA’s primary website for agricultural operations.
 
With regard to enforcement, the Committee notes the Government’s indication that the WHD has opened new offices, hired new inspectors to maintain an inspection force of approximately 1,000 inspectors, and increased the number of outreach and planning specialists to cover nearly all of the agency’s 55 district offices. Nearly 700 WHD employees speak a language in addition to English (more than 500 WHD employees speak Spanish). WHD’s multilingual employees speak nearly 50 languages.
Moreover, the WHD further strengthened its protection of young workers by making full use of the regulatory tools available to it, including the new “hot goods” provision and the Child Labor Enhanced Penalty Program, which have enabled the WHD to impose increased penalties on violators of child labour law. For example, during the reporting period, the WHD imposed penalties of $40,000 and $56,000 on manufacturers in Ohio and Indiana for child labour violations that had resulted in severe injuries to young workers. In December 2015, the WHD assessed a $63,000 penalty against an Ohio chicken processing facility for violating child labour laws when a 17 year-old was severely injured operating and cleaning hazardous poultry processing equipment. The WHD assessed a nearly $2 million penalty on a Utah pecan grower for child labour violations in April 2015.
The Committee further notes the Government’s statement that the health and safety of all agricultural workers, including children, is further protected through the Environmental Protection Agency’s Worker Protection Standard (WPS) (40 C.F.R. Part 170), which protects over 2 million agricultural workers (people involved in the production of agricultural plants) and pesticide handlers (people who mix, load, or apply crop pesticides) who work at over 600,000 agricultural establishments (farms, forests, nurseries and greenhouses) from occupational exposure and provides information about avoiding pesticide exposure, what to do in the event of an accidental exposure, and when to stay out of a pesticide-treated area. The Government points out that although previously, there was no federal minimum age for handling agricultural pesticides, this standard has been revised to provide increased protections for workers which take effect in January 2017. In this regard, the Committee notes with interest that, under the revised standard children under 18 are prohibited from handling agricultural pesticides.
 
The Committee finally notes the Government’s information regarding the youth surveys conducted by the US Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which developed a surveillance system to track and assess the magnitude and characteristics of non-fatal injuries to youth on US farming operations. Two types of youth surveys are conducted by NASS for NIOSH, one of which is the Childhood Agricultural Injury Survey (CAIS), which is representative of all farms in the country.
 
The most recent CAIS collected data for youth and youth injuries that occurred during the 2014 calendar year. For 2014, there were an estimated 892,000 youth under 18 years of age living on (household youth) or hired to work on US farms. Of this total, there were 744,000 household youth under 18 years of age, of which 376,000 (50.5 per cent) were reported to have performed work on the farm during the year. The remaining 148,000 youth were hired to work on these farms. Combining household workers with hired workers resulted in an estimated 524,000 youth under 18 years of age who worked on farms in 2014, down from 854,000 working youth under 18 years of age in 2001. The 2014 CAIS indicates that there were an estimated 10,400 injuries to all youth under 18 years of age on US farms, with 64 per cent of injuries occurring to household youth. An estimated 30 per cent of these injuries were work-related.
 
The Committee notes the Government’s statement that the overall number of injuries to youth under 18 years of age on farms decreased by 63 per cent between 1998 and 2014 (28,100 to 10,400), with work-related injuries decreasing by 70 per cent over the same period. An examination of the combined CAIS estimates from all six years of the survey (2001, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014) finds an estimated 34,000 working youth suffered injuries on US farms, of which 3,600 were under the age of 10 years, 13,900 were between the ages of 10 and 15 years, and 8,400 injuries were youth between 16 and 17 years of age. Lacerations and fractures were the most common types of injuries reported in 2014.
 
The Committee takes due note of the various awareness-raising, educational, inspection and enforcement initiatives taken by the Government to protect the health and safety of young persons working in agriculture and to reduce the number of their work-related injuries on farms. However, the Committee further notes that despite the various government initiatives and programmes to better protect the health and safety of children working in the agricultural industry, a number of children under 18 years still suffer injuries, some serious, while engaged in farm work. In this regard, the Committee recalls that work which, by its nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out was likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children, constitutes one of the worst forms of child labour and, therefore, member States are required to take immediate and effective measures to secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour as a matter of urgency. While Article 4(1) of the Convention allows the types of hazardous work to be determined by national laws or regulations or the competent authority, after consultation with the social partners, the Committee notes that in practice, the agricultural sector, which is not on the list of hazardous types of work, remains an industry that is particularly hazardous to young persons. The Committee accordingly encourages the Government to continue taking effective and time-bound measures to ensure that children under 18 years of age only be permitted to perform work in agriculture on the condition that their health and safety are protected and that they receive adequate specific instruction. It requests the Government to pursue its efforts to strengthen the capacity of the institutions responsible for the monitoring of child labour in agriculture, to protect child agricultural workers from hazardous work. The Committee also requests the Government to continue providing detailed statistical information on child labour in agriculture, including the number of work-related injuries of children working in agriculture, as well as the extent and nature of child labour violations detected, investigations carried out, prosecutions, convictions and penalties applied.
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