Monday, May 5, 2008

From Washington

American Farm Bureau Recommends Changes to Agriculture Worker Program

WASHINGTON—The American Farm Bureau wants Congress to craft an effective H2A temporary worker program. In comments submitted to the Department of Labor,
AFBF told the Department of Labor that revisions to the program are needed to help slow a serious agriculture labor shortage and recommends moving toward a more market-based wage program.

The H2A program currently mandates an “adverse effect wage rate” that forces farmers to pay higher than market wages—on top of housing and transportation costs. In some cases, according to the Farm Bureau, those requirements make the program impossible to use from an economic standpoint.

“Growers have been clamoring for a more sensible, market-based wage,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “We’re 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.”

The AFBF also favors eliminating the so called ‘50 percent rule’ because it keeps growers from participating in the H2A program. The rule requires an employer to hire any qualified and eligible U.S. worker who applies for a job until 50 percent of the work contract is completed.

“There’s no reason to mandate that a grower’s obligations to find and recruit eligible U.S. workers should extend past the recruitment period; imposing such an obligation serves only to disrupt operations of the producer and does little to protect U.S. workers,” said Stallman.

AFBF urged the department to further reform the H2A program by 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. The Farm Bureau 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, which could result in a grower losing eligibility for the H2A program for one action or violation.

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