New Farm Labour Programme Proposed

US - The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) is advocating a new plan to fix the labour problem plaguing US agriculture.
calendar icon 5 November 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

AFBF has developed a plan to implement a new visa programme that would assure that the nation’s farmers will have access to the labour they need.

"This proposal is something that truly will work for a farmer in California who needs laborers for four days for a strawberry harvest and a dairy producer who needs workers for 365 days a year," says AFBF Labour Specialist Kristi Boswell.

Ms Boswell says the new programme would encompass the best parts of the current program – called H-2A – but would be more affordable and flexible for the workers and the employers by offering an option of working under a contract or on an “at will” basis.

"Right now it only encompasses four per cent of agricultural labour. It does not work for a grower who has a very short season or there are states that have a hard time allowing growers to build on the farm housing. It’s very expensive and it’s become very bureaucratic." "One thing this recommendation does is it changes the administration of the programme from the Department of Labour to the USDA, hoping that the USDA understands the intricacies of agriculture and the difficulties at predicting harvest season and weather issues that may come up," she said.

Ms Boswell acknowledges that the legal status of much of the nations farm labour supply is questionable, but the truth of the matter is domestic workers do not want to do this work.

"The reality is we have not seen domestic workers taking these jobs. They are seasonal in nature and they’re very hard for someone to have a stable position who needs to provide for their families here long term in a community setting. A survey done by the National Council of Agricultural Employers found that five per cent of domestic referrals in the H-2A program stay the entire course of the contract period. That’s very, very small. We have to have a more reliable workforce than that."

The whole issue is very controversial, but Ms Boswell says there is optimism that the new Congress may actually tackle it.

Ms Boswell says the programme also offers incentives for illegal farm workers to become legal workers.

"There’s absolutely more incentive for a worker under this programme to come out of the shadows if they’re currently here, or to come across and have more flexibility in being able to work for multiple registered employers, either under contract or at will and it gives them more choices in this situation if they’re unhappy at a particular farm, they can go work at another farm and that is the flexibility that workers desire."

Charlotte Johnson

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