Wednesday, April 16, 2008

American Farm Bureau Wants Revisions for Temporary Worker Program

WASHINGTON– Revisions to the H2A temporary worker program will be a critical component to the success of farmers and ranchers keeping food production in America. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, labor challenges will force more and more farmers to use the program in spite of well-documented pitfalls, while other farmers who face labor shortages continue to be unable to use the program at all.

In comments submitted today to the Department of Labor, AFBF recommended a number of revisions to the H2A program to help alleviate a serious shortage in the number of available agricultural workers. AFBF encouraged DOL’s efforts to move toward a market-based wage in the H2A program and said the existing method for setting wages has “outlived its usefulness.”
The H2A program currently mandates an “adverse effect wage rate” that forces growers to pay wages higher than the market – on top of housing and transportation costs, according to AFBF. In some cases, those requirements make the program impossible to use from an economic standpoint.

“Growers have been clamoring for years for a more sensible, market-based wage,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “We are hopeful the Labor Department can implement this reform in an open, transparent manner that makes it easier for farmers and ranchers to use the program.”
Other reforms AFBF supported in its comments were: eliminating the 50 percent rule regarding domestic recruitment; providing a housing voucher for program users; and including packing and processing employees, as well as the dairy sector, as part of the program.

Farm Bureau also asked the department to change some of its proposals. AFBF said the 120-day recruitment requirement was far too long and should be cut to no more than 60 days. AFBF also called for fundamental due-process reforms in the department’s proposed debarment process, and it strongly urged the department to scale back the enormous increase in fees it was proposing for program participants.

In comments to a companion rule proposed by the Department of Homeland Security, AFBF urged DHS not to change its existing treatment of sheepherders and how it treats them under its visa provisions.

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