MEDIA RELEASE: NC farmworkers face wage and pesticide violations, new study shows

MEDIA RELEASE: NC farmworkers face wage and pesticide violations, new study shows
Many workers experience grave health challenges, compensated below minimum wage standards

RALEIGH (July 25, 2011) – A new study has found that a majority of farmworkers in North Carolina have experienced numerous pesticide safety violations, and are often not adequately compensated for their work in the fields.

Researchers with Wake Forest University and the North Carolina Farmworkers Project analyzed data from a survey of 300 eastern North Carolina farmworkers in 2009, and found that 18 percent of all farmworkers had experienced wage violations. Astonishingly, nearly half of workers without an H-2A visa earned less than the federal minimum wage.

A majority of farmworkers also experience numerous pesticide safety violations on top of a variety of everyday problems faced by migrant workers, including a lack of access to health care and social services, poor housing, and separation from their families.

“North Carolina farmworkers face serious health and safety risks because of these violations,” said Carol Brooke, an attorney with the NC Justice Center. “This study just confirms that greater enforcement of existing standards is sorely needed.”

The study found that two-thirds of farmworkers had not been provided with required pesticide safety training, and only half were informed when pesticides had been applied to the fields where they worked. Pesticide exposure can lead to immediate effects such as dizziness and vomiting, but can also lead to an increased risk for cancer, neurological disorders, and reproductive challenges.

There is a correlation between wage violations and pesticide safety problems, the study finds, noting that workers who were not paid the minimum wage were also unlikely to be told when pesticides had been applied, and when it was safe to return to the field. Farmworkers often fear retaliation for reporting these violations, and in turn remain silent even when they are being exposed to hazardous materials and paid well below the minimum wage.

The research shows the grave need for stronger enforcement efforts and greater cooperation between regulatory agencies, the study states, particularly given the often linked relationship between pesticide safety and wage violations. “This could greatly benefit the lives of all farmworkers as well as streamline the process of investigation for inspectors,” the study reads. “These results argue for greater regulation and greater enforcement of regulation resulting in safer work and living conditions for all farmworkers.”

To request a copy of the study, contact Jeff Shaw at jeff@ncjustice.org.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Jeff Shaw, director of communications, NC Justice Center, jeff@ncjustice.org, 503.551.3615 (mobile).