California first state to promise overtime to farmworkers

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Parliament - Farming land must be used to the benefit of the economy and the country even if its owners are not experienced farmers. These are the word of Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana in Parliament on Wednesday.

SACRAMENTO - California will become the first US state to require farmers to pay overtime to field workers and fruit pickers under a bill signed on Monday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

The bill would phase in overtime pay for farmworkers from 2019 to 2022. In an industry where a work week during the harvest season can be as long as 60 hours, the measure requires farmers to pay overtime after eight hours per day or 40 hours per week.

"This new law will benefit the health and well-being of nearly a million migrant farmworkers who work tirelessly to plant, cultivate, and harvest California&39;s agriculture for families across the country and world," said Daniel Zingale, senior vice president of the California Endowment, a health advocacy foundation that supported the measure.

The new law, part of a sweeping liberal agenda that passed in the last months of the 2015-2016 legislative session, ends an exemption meant to benefit farmers during the Depression-era implementation of the nation&39;s first wage and hour laws.

The result of decades of lobbying by the United Farm Workers Union, the measure will make California the first state in the nation to authorise farm worker overtime.

California employs an estimated 800,000 seasonal farmworkers, about a third of the agricultural industry&39;s nationwide workforce, according to the University of California report. Its agricultural economy is the largest in the United States, with $47 billion (R 672.65 billion) in revenue last year, according to state data.

Other states and the federal government continue to exempt farm workers from overtime and other protections. Supporters, including Latino lawmakers whose parents and grandparents worked in the fields as migrant labourers from Mexico, say the change rectifies years of unfair practices.

But opponents, including many farmers and most Republican lawmakers, said that agricultural work is seasonal, with 60-hour weeks during the harvest and planting seasons, and no work at all during other parts of the year.

Requiring overtime, these opponents say, would be prohibitively expensive, leading farmers to cut back hours for pickers during a time when the workers need to be earning more to make up for months of unemployment during other parts of the year.

"Farmers, ranchers and growers cannot afford this mandate," said state Senator Jim Nielsen, who represents agricultural and suburban areas north of Sacramento.

Farms employing fewer than 25 people would have three additional years to comply with the new law.