Farmworkers are among the most vulnerable and lowest-paid employees. They work some of the longest hours, under some of the harshest conditions, for some of the smallest paychecks. In fact, farmworkers earn an estimated 40 percent less than other workers performing similar jobs.
It should not be so, however, as they’re in a way responsible for the progress of a country. They should be well respected and looked out for. If you’re a farmworker and you’re not being treated properly, it is within your legal rights to seek and get justice. That’s why we’ve put together pieces of advice to help you protect your fundamental rights.
Understand That You Are Recognized Employees
Farmworkers aren’t second-class citizens. They’re a crucial part of the country’s food production and they help increase productivity and contribute to a more sustainable way of life. People who work in agriculture are entitled to all the protections that workers in other industries have, including minimum wage rates, overtime pay, unemployment insurance protection, family leave, medical and other leave, and protection from discrimination and harassment.
As a matter of fact, they are recognized as employees by the National Labor Relations Act. That means no employer is permitted to consider you any less. They have a right to unionize and bargain collectively – with their employers as well as with agricultural associations
You Can File For Complaints
The first step to protecting your rights as a farmworker is to file an official complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA conducts regular inspections of workplaces, so if you know that your employer is violating health or safety standards, then you can take action yourself by filing an official complaint.
Be sure to keep records of the events you want to file a complaint about. If possible, take pictures or record videos to help establish your case. Send these documents together with your OSHA complaint form to the relevant authority within 30 days of the incident that occurred.
Be aware that if you report an incident and it is not investigated, then OSHA is permitted to charge your employer with retaliatory action. It’s not just you who can get in trouble – the person responsible for retaliating against you may also be penalized.
Hire an Attorney
If reporting hasn’t worked, then you can hire an attorney. Keep in mind that hiring a legal representative doesn’t mean you have to pay anything unless the attorney wins your case for you. Legal services are offered free of charge if you’re eligible.
It is your right to file a lawsuit against your employer or agricultural association if they’ve violated any of your rights. You are also eligible to request compensation for farm accidents through the help of a lawyer. Be sure, however, that you have enough evidence to back up your claims and make sure an attorney can help you analyze whether they’re worth pursuing or not. Otherwise, it may be difficult for you to win them in court.
Don’t Let Unions Organize Without Your Participation
If you’re an agricultural worker, then you can support union efforts without joining one. You don’t have to pay membership fees or get involved in the day-to-day activities of a labor organization for it to be able to act on your behalf, but if you want them to do so, then you must express your support.
The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee has been around since the 1930s and represents workers in many states. If you want to get involved with their work, then contact them directly and inquire about how to become a member of their organizations or help out. You can also seek legal aid from this group if you want to file a lawsuit.
Don’t Get Discouraged if You Feel Like No One is Listening
Keep in mind that you don’t have to protect your rights alone. There are people out there who are ready, willing, and able to help. Your voice does matter – it just takes time for the law to catch up with what’s acceptable or not. Keep working hard and don’t give up – you have rights.
It’s your job to stand up for them whenever they are being violated. That’s all there is to it. Your employer has the obligation to meet your terms, so hold on tight until they finally stop taking advantage of you. Protect yourself at all times!
As a farmworker, never forget that you’re not expendable. You’re an important part of the workforce of any thriving society and, as such, protected by law. Any employer who trivializes your contribution by not making the work condition favorable to you or underpaying you can be met with the full force of the law if you decide to protect your rights.