SIKESTON -- Federal officials will make their annual rounds soon to ensure migrant and seasonal agricultural workers are being treated fairly.
"Every year we come around and we do investigations under the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act," said David Bollman of the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division office in St. Louis. "It protects migrant and seasonal agriculture workers by establishing employment standards related to wages, housing, transportation, disclosures and record keeping. It also requires farm labor contractors to register with the U.S. Department of Labor."
According to the U.S. Department of Labor's definitions, "a migrant farm worker does not return to his or her home at night. A seasonal farm work does," Bollman said.
While the number of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in this area are not available, "I know there are various crops grown in Southeast Missouri like tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupes, and that they use migrant and seasonal workers to pick these crops," he said.
The act mandates that these workers must be must be paid wages -- on time -- and that vehicles used to transport them must be inspected and properly insured. The act also requires healthful living conditions in housing provided for migrant workers.
Disclosure provisions in the act require employers to advise the workers of their wages, periods of employment, the crops they will work on and whether or not there is workers compensation and unemployment insurance, which are both required in Missouri.
"That information has to be provided in the language of the migrant or seasonal worker and has to be in writing, too," Bollman said.
Failure to comply with the provisions in this act is punishable by fines. The Department of Labor can also deny future certificates of registration for farm labor contractors.
A farm labor contractor is defined as someone who for money or other consideration is paid or promised to be paid to recruit, solicit, hire, employ or transport migrant and seasonal agricultural workers or who provides housing for migrant workers, according to Bollman. "They have to be registered with the U.S. Department of Labor," he said.
Bollman said he is not allowed to disclose whether or not violations are found in the area during inspections.
"The typical problems we find are the individuals are not receiving the wages that were promised or they are living in unhealthful housing conditions," Bollman said.
Sometimes inspectors find farm labor contractors are not registered or find unsafe transportation is being used to take workers to the fields, he said. In these cases, vehicles are usually found to be underinsured or not insured at all.
"Generally we find that these migrant or seasonal workers are jointly employed by the farmer, so the record keeping requirement applies also to the farmer," Bollman said. "The farmer should be asking for copies of I-9s -- that's the immigration forms required by Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- and payroll records to verify payment of records."
The time spent on inspections varies depending on how large of an organization is being inspected, if transportation is being offered by the organization, and by what kind of violations are found if any.
When the inspections are conducted also varies. "We come out at different times depending on the crops, when they are picked," Bollman said.
Those who have questions about the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act or need more information should contact the U.S. Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division by calling 1-866-4US-WAGE (487-9243) or can visit the Wage and Hour Division's home page at www.wagehour.dol.gov.