The Exploitation and Vulnerable Working conditions of Migrant Agriculture Workers and their Quality of Life

A Research Brief by: Sandra Vidal

SVMigrant agriculture workers in the United States form part of a marginalized community that often times goes unnoticed, causing their health issues to become invisible and unspoken of on a larger platform. Migrant agriculture workers are part of a vulnerable population; this in part is due to language barriers, lack of agriculture unions, and the documentation status of the workers. Moreover, the working environment of migrant farm workers is a social determinant of their health. Migrant workers are exposed to hazardous, inhumane, and stratifying working environments. The usage of pesticides, working under high temperatures and low wages place migrant farm workers are at a greater risk of having health issues.

Migrant farm workers are exposed to more than one pesticide throughout their lifetime which can be very damaging. 939 urine samples were taken from a group of 11 migrant farm working camps in North Carolina, six distinct pesticides were found. Many migrant agriculture workers, face skin diseases, irritated itchy eyes, blurred vison, diabetes-related eye problems, oral health issues. They are also at a greater risk of developing tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, and mental health issues. Seeking health care services is challenging because many do not speak English, do not have health insurance, are undocumented, have no transportation or time to visit a health center. Many migrant workers do not seek health care services because its an expensive cost that they can not afford.

Migrant workers who are not paid an hourly wage are often paid at a fixed price rate, which means that they are paid based on how many buckets they fill up with the crop at hand. Federal laws do not require small farms to pay their employees an hourly wage, thus many find loopholes and can get away with paying migrant workers solely on a fixed price rate. The usage of a fixed price rate reinforces the exploitation of migrant farm workers and perpetuates a cycle of cheap inhumane labor. Many migrant agriculture workers have a salary below the poverty line, this is what modern day slavery looks like, human trafficking.

The United States should ban farm employers from using fixed price rates because it undermines the hard work of migrant agriculture workers. It also causes economic hardships on migrant workers which in turn affects their quality of life; access to health care, food security, safe and affordable living conditions are at risk. Comprehensive and culturally relevant trainings that provide information regarding workers' rights, pesticide safety, first aid steps should be given to migrant farm workers in the language that they best understand. Employers should be required to set protocols that ensure workers are taking breaks, staying hydrated, and can receive first aid help if needed. Each farming crop should have a union for their employees. Random inspections on farming employers can help regulate the working conditions at the site.

Ultimately, we see the adverse damages that such working environments have on the quality of life of migrant farm workers and yet their lives and health care are not taken seriously. We need to stop dismissing migrant farm workers.