The Fair Work Standards Act of 1938 states that children under the age of 14 are not allowed to work at all and that children between the ages of 14 and 15 are not allowed to work after 7 p.m. or for more than three hours a day.
According to the Washington Post, a food sanitation service provider has now been slammed with fines totaling $1.5 million for allegedly breaking all three of those regulations. The Department of Labor has charged Packers Sanitation Services with illegally employing more than 100 children to clean more than a dozen meatpacking plants across eight states as they worked midnight shifts and were exposed to hazardous equipment and chemicals.
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The minors, whose ages ranged from 13 to 17, cleaned slaughterhouses run by some of the most well-known meatpacking firms in the country, including Tyson, Cargill, and JBS Foods, according to a probe that started in August, according to the DOL. According to reports, the kids cleaned “razor-sharp saws,” “head splitters,” and other “high-risk” tools with poisonous chemicals, and according to investigations, at least three of the kids received work-related injuries, including one who got a chemical burn to the face. According to Michael Lazzeri, a regional DOL official, “our inquiry discovered Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged certain young workers as minors, but the company ignored the alerts.”
The adults who had recruited, hired, and oversaw these minors, the author writes, “tried to impede our efforts to investigate their employment practices” when DOL investigators arrived at several of the plants with search warrants. Several of the juvenile workers were unaccompanied adolescents who had just crossed the southern border into the United States, according to advocates and attorneys for the children who spoke to NBC News. Although NBC reports there is no indication that Packers itself was under investigation for trafficking, authorities from the Department of Homeland Security told the news organization last month that it was looking into whether any of the kids had been illegally trafficked.
The alleged child labor violations, according to a DOL official, are “systematic” and “clearly demonstrate a corporate-wide failure by Packers Sanitation Services at all levels,” according to the Post. “We have been extremely clear from the start: Our firm has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anybody under the age of 18 and completely supports the DOL’s purpose of achieving full compliance at all locations,” a Packers representative says in regards to the fines.