By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
Whistleblower protection is a hot topic in occupational safety and health. This is especially so when talking about farmworkers because of the many issues affecting farmworkers that often times go unacknowledged or unreported out of fear. What used to be the small bucolic farms of yesteryear are becoming a distant memory as labor intensive farming tasks and high-speed industrial production is more prevalent. Yes- it is effective and efficient, but; what about The Human Cost of Agriculture?
Imagine for a moment:
You are an undocumented farmworker, the backbone of industrial agriculture, being paid an unlivable wage while performing hazardous and exhausting work. Now you are witness to daily violations in the fields, such as lack of bathrooms and drinking water, which threaten to sicken the population at large. Do you file a claim?
Keep in mind your circumstances and that your only livelihood is on the line- if discovered as the whistleblower. What would you do?
The truth is that undocumented farmworkers enjoy little to no whistleblower protections under the law. However, there are farmworkers who have the freedom to exercise their rights and manage to advocate for themselves and others.
Protection from workplace retaliation means that an employer cannot take adverse actions against workers for exercising their right to file a complaint, including:
- Fail To Hire/Rehire
- Dock/Withhold pay
The implementation of whistleblower protections is seen by some as going too far because it is viewed as creating incentives for complaints. Yet if you examine the facts: the majority of farmworkers are Latino; that English is not the primary or even secondary language in some cases: and that- as a group, farmworkers are often described as an invisible population. It is easy to see why others who have nothing to worry about might view offering protection as incentives.
What it boils down to is no matter who you are or what your legal status, no one should have to go to work and pay with their life. Safety first, right? Well, I would love to say that is the way of the world but we all know that there are always extenuating circumstances that come into play with every situation. AFOP Health & Safety Programs trainers are training farmworkers on health and safety issues but they are also in a position to be advocates but it begins with knowing your rights as a worker.