Sunday, October 25, 2009

Understanding the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act

The Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, or MSPA, was signed into law in 1983, and replaced the older Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act. As the name implies, it serves to provide certain guarantees and protections for migrant and seasonal agriculture laborers. Because migrant laborers are less likely to be able to organize and fight for their own rights, the MSPA provides basic rights for these workers and prevents employers from taking advantage of them. The bulk of the act outlines such rights, and stipulations protecting these rights.

The most important stipulations of the MSPA include:

* The employer must offer free and full disclosure of all the terms and conditions of the employment if asked by the seasonal employees. This is to prevent a bait-and-switch situation, taking advantage of the employees by changing the conditions of employment after the fact.
* Posting information about worker protection at the job site.
* Consistently pay the workers any owed wages when they are due, and provide a written, itemized statement detailing the earnings and deductions.
* If the employer provides housing for the employees, the housing must be in good shape and meet all federal and state safety regulations. Although the employer may not be required to provide housing, if he or she does, it must comply with all standards.
* The same goes for any vehicles provided as transportation for the employees. All such vehicles must meet both federal and state safety standards. Additionally, the employer must pay insurance on the vehicles, and the drivers must have the appropriate licenses.
* The employer must meet any terms agreed upon with the workers.
* The employer must keep all payroll records for any and all employees for at least three years.

It is important to note, though, that these stipulations apply only to actual employees, not to independent contractors. People working as agricultural workers can have multiple employers at any given time, and each employer has the same responsibility to follower the terms and conditions of the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act. Although these employers do not have to double up on services provided, failure to jointly provide the protections guaranteed by the MSPA mean that both can be held accountable. Because the MSPA is a federal law, failure to comply with it is a serious offense.

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Joseph Devine

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