Another perverse effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, bills are multiplying in the United States to facilitate the employment of young people under the age of 16. A questioning of one of the great achievements of the New Deal: the law of 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act, which limits the duration of child labor and the nature of the tasks that may be required of them. The phenomenon had begun even before the pandemic: since 2018, violations of child labor laws have increased by 69%, according to the United States Department of Labor (DOL). And the pandemic has accentuated it.
Faced with a shortage of candidates – more than 2 million employees are missing – companies are just waiting to recruit a workforce that pays little attention to hours and wages: such as young people, and mainly immigrants. More than 125,000 unaccompanied minors arrived from Central America in 2022. A godsend for the agri-food industry, mechanical subcontracting, handling, etc.
In 2002, the DOL caught 835 companies illegally employing 3,860 minors. The names of large companies were mentioned: McDonald’s, Dunkin Donuts or Hyundai. Their managers plead that they have nothing to do with it, explaining that recruitment is carried out by their franchises or by temporary work agencies. In February Labor Secretary Marty Walsh accused the corporate world of guilty complacency. “Everyone has a responsibilityhe lectured. Child labor is not a 19th century problem, but a problem of today. »
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The biggest scandal uncovered by the ministry involved 102 children, aged 13 to 17, illegally employed by Packers Sanitation Services, a slaughterhouse cleaning company, at 13 meatpacking plants owned by meat giants like Tyson Foods or Cargill in eight states. The children worked at night cleaning machines, cutting bones with dangerous chemicals and had caustic burns to their hands. Several had recently arrived from Guatemala. Packers Sanitation Services, which since 2018 has belonged to the investment firm Blackstone, was fined 1.5 million dollars (1.4 million euros).
Without parental consent
To circumvent the law of 1938, the industrialists count on the assistance of the political world. In republican states, goodwill abounds. Arkansas, under its new governor, former Donald Trump White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, was the first state to pass legislation in March to facilitate child labor.
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