Migrant workers make up the backbone of the agricultural sector of our economy; however, low pay, undesirable working conditions, and substandard housing accommodations make migrant farm work not highly sought after by Americans. So, who fills the position? Predominantly, illegal immigrants comprise the migrant workforce. In 1983, the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) was passed to protect the rights of migrant workers.
Provisions and Requirements
Under the MSPA, farm labor contractors, agricultural employers, and agricultural associations, who recruit, solicit, hire, employ, furnish, transport, or house agricultural workers must meet certain minimum requirements. Such requirements include:
• Farm labor contractors must register with the Department of Labor before hiring or recruiting migrant workers
• Agricultural and employer associations must cooperate with the farm labor contractors to ensure compliance with the MSPA
• Employers must provide seasonal workers with a written copy of the terms and conditions of their employment prior to hiring. Additionally, if employees request a copy at any point during their employment, it must be provided to them.
• Wages must be paid when due
• Employers cannot break the terms of their contract with employees at any point unless there is legitimate justification for doing so
• All migrant housing accommodations must meet state and federal standards of health and safety
• All vehicles used to transport migrant laborers must be properly insured and meet safety standards set forth by the state. Additionally, all drivers of the vehicles must be licensed.
• The Wage and Hour Division may randomly inspect an employer’s pay roll, housing and vehicle safety, and interview employers and employees.
Failure to Comply
Under the MSPA, migrant farmers and seasonal agricultural workers have the right to file a complaint with the Wage and Hour Division, file a private lawsuit, and testify or cooperate with an investigation or lawsuit without receiving any backlash from their employer.
Unfortunately, most migrant farmers are undocumented workers, which severely impedes their ability to take legal action against employers who violate the provisions of the MSPA. Additionally, because 61% of U.S. farm workers’ income fall below the poverty level (with a median income of less than $7500 annually), migrant workers do not have the financial capacity to file a lawsuit.