The US Department of Labor, April 15, 2020 in Washington (AFP/Archives/Daniel SLIM)
Working in an industrial laundromat at age 14, doing 35 hours a week in addition to school: it is possible with the relaxation of barriers governing adolescent work in several American states, where the illegal hiring of children has in parallel flambé.
In Arkansas, the changes took effect August 1.
The law “simply makes it legal for anyone aged 14 and over (…) to work without government authorization,” Alexa Henning, spokesperson for the state’s Republican governor, Sarah Huckabee, told AFP. Sanders – former spokesperson for Donald Trump.
“All protections against child labor still apply”, the governor even “signed (a) bill (…) to toughen the sanctions”, she added.
“It may not seem very serious, but in reality, the impact of this law is very significant,” lamented Reid Maki, coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition organization, to AFP.
The risk ? Finding children “in jobs they should not be doing”.
Republican Governor of Arkansas, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, on February 7, 2023 in Little Rock (POOL/AFP/Archives/Al Drago)
For two years, “at least 14 states” have presented texts aimed at “eroding the protections of young workers”, explained to AFP Nina Mast, of the progressive think tank Economic Policy Institute, and co-author of a report.
“By extending hours, expanding the sectors in which young people can work, allowing them to serve alcohol, …”, she detailed.
Iowa, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Michigan and Arkansas have, at this point, changed their laws, according to this report.
– “Incompatible” provisions –
In the United States, a law has regulated the work of minors since 1938. But each state is free to adopt its own legislation, which must however remain more protective than the federal text.
The relaxation of barriers governing adolescent work is effective in several American states (AFP/Archives/Robyn BECK)
In Iowa, Republican Governor Kim Reynolds, by ratifying the text at the end of May, welcomed “adapted and common-sense work arrangements that allow young adults to develop their skills in the job market”.
However, according to the report by Nina Mast and Jennifer Sherer, this is “one of the most dangerous setbacks in child labor laws in the country”.
Democratic elected officials, opposed to this reform, contacted the Ministry of Labor. Verdict: certain provisions “appear incompatible with federal law”, according to the response sent at the end of August by Seema Nanda and Jessica Looman, two ministry officials.
Employers who apply them then find themselves illegal.
The country still needs to have enough labor inspectors to see this, lamented Reid Maki.
The Iowa text, for example, authorizes certain dangerous tasks, and allows those under 16 to stay on the job until 9:00 p.m. during school hours. Outside of the federal text, therefore, which authorizes 14-16 year olds to work until 7:00 p.m. only during school periods, 3 hours per day, and for a maximum of 18 hours per week.
For comparison, France allows adolescents of this age to work during half of the school holidays only, in risk-free jobs.
– “Not a 19th century problem” –
The labor shortage that the United States has been experiencing for more than two years is not unrelated to this wave of deregulation, denounces Nina Mast.
The relaxation of barriers governing adolescent work is effective in several American states (AFP/Archives/Patrick T. FALLON)
The business world “is taking advantage of the current situation to push to erode protections. But this effort is not new”, she noted, citing, among others, the professional federation of construction, that of catering , or even tourism.
However, “we cannot weaken protections to provide workers,” also accuses Reid Maki.
“The income that a child will receive as an adult really depends a lot on whether they go to high school and university,” he emphasizes.
These reforms come as the number of illegally employed minors in the country has jumped 69% since 2018, according to the Labor Department.
In these circumstances, “it is irresponsible for states to consider relaxing protections against child labor,” denounced Seema Nanda, lawyer for the Department of Labor, in April.
The Biden administration announced in February that it wanted to strengthen the fight against illegal work, linked to the influx of migrant children from Latin America, often without parents.
“This is not a 19th century problem – it’s a today’s problem”, even noted the former Minister of Labor, Marty Walsh.
One case, in particular, left its mark: in February, an industrial cleaning company was condemned. She had hired at least 102 young people aged 13 to 17 who, at night, after their school day, cleaned slaughterhouses, polishing saws and head splitters with toxic products.
© 2023 AFP
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