Thursday, March 26, 2020

Coronavirus and farmworkers: Farm employment, safety issues, and the H2-A guest worker program

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A timely policy brief by Daniel Costa and Philip Martin outlines key issues to consider as farm employment is set to increase in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.  Here it is.  The executive summary:

Employment on farms is lower in March, but increases through the spring and peaks in July. Here are key issues to consider as farm employment is set to increase in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:

Farm employers will need to provide adequate safety equipment and implement social distancing measures to keep workers safe, even if some safety measures reduce productivity; they should also provide health insurance and paid sick days.

Policies implemented in response to the coronavirus could affect the pool of farmworkers available, specifically school closures and changes in visa processing for H-2A farmworkers—migrant workers hired to fill temporary or seasonal agriculture jobs lasting less than one year.

H-2A farmworkers make up 10% of crop farmworkers in the country. The Department of State’s visa processing policies in response to the coronavirus that limit processing to returning workers could reduce the number of H-2A workers who can be employed on U.S. farms by as many as 60,000, although federal agencies appear to be attempting to mitigate this by seeking to transfer current H-2A workers with contracts set to expire to other farms seeking workers.

Employers are responsible for housing H-2A workers and providing them with daily transport, which means there are additional health and safety issues employers need to consider.

The prospect of higher unemployment nationally and in key agricultural states during the coming months due to the coronavirus should motivate farm employers to increase their recruitment efforts among unemployed workers, including both U.S.-born and immigrant workers.

Employers in five states, but especially in California, may see an increased need to pay more overtime hours to farmworkers. Paying more hours in overtime wages to their current workforce is a viable option if farmers end up facing a labor shortage.


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