Program teaches farm labor contractors how to avoid problems

12/28/2011 10:51:00 AM
By Fritz Roka, Cesar Asuaje and Carlene Thissen

Editor's note: This is the Immokalee Report, a monthly column written by researchers at the University of Florida's Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee. This column appeared in the November-December 2011 issue of Citrus + Vegetable Magazine.

A new University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences educational program has been developed and currently is offered to farm labor contractors and supervisors in Florida.

A primary function of these positions is to supervise seasonal and migrant farm workers in harvesting and other field activities on fruit and vegetable farms.

Other duties of a farm labor supervisor may include recruitment, hiring, transportation, payroll disbursement and housing of farm workers.

A supervisor may be a labor contractor, crew leader, field foreman, farm manager or farm owner.

To be officially designated as a labor contractor, a person must obtain a valid certificate of registration from both the U.S. Department of Labor and the Florida Division of Business and Professional Regulation.

Registrations vary with respect to authorization to drive workers, own buses or vans that transport workers and/or provide housing to workers.

Full-time employees of a farm may perform the duties of a labor contractor, but are not required to register as a FLC.

They are, however, obligated to follow the same rules and regulations concerning treatment of farm workers. State and federal laws that protect farm workers are extensive and have evolved over time.

Aside from passing a test to receive their initial certification of registration, labor contractors are not required by state or federal agencies to receive any additional training.

Many FLCs and supervisors are unaware of the full scope of current labor regulations and how the regulations have changed.

Program expands learning opportunities

Opportunities for continuing education for labor contractors and supervisors have been limited, with one exception: Worker Protection Standards, or WPS.

In 1995, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mandated that all agricultural workers, including contractors and supervisors, be trained in pesticide safety and be knowledgeable about five basic worker protection measures. They include pesticide decontamination procedures and where to find information about chemicals recently applied to the fields where they work.

Designed to address the most common violations cited by labor compliance investigators, the voluntary University of Florida Farm Labor Supervisor Core Training program expands training opportunities for farm personnel who directly manage and supervise seasonal and migrant farm workers.

The program’s content targets payment of at least minimum wage, correct accounting for hours worked during a pay period; proper record keeping; field safety; and maintaining regulatory standards for field sanitation, vehicle safety, and farm worker housing.

The two-day core program was offered during fall 2011 in Wimauma, Arcadia, Immokalee and Belle Glade.

The goals of this program were to develop and implement an educational curriculum that provides an integrated picture of regulatory responsibilities related to farm labor.

The underlying rationale is that enhanced knowledge about farm labor laws and regulations will improve the professionalism of labor contractors and supervisors, reduce the number of field violations, and improve overall working conditions of farm workers.

For more information about the training program, contact Fritz Roka or Carlene Thissen at (239) 658-3400.

Fritz Roka is an agricultural economist at the UF/IFAS Southwest Research and Education Center in Immokalee. Cesar Asuaje is farm safety specialist, UF/IFAS, West Palm Beach. Carlen Thissen is project coordinator-farm labor contractor training, SWFREC in Immokalee.



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