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Friday, 4 May, 2001, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Amish seek child labour exemption
Amish farm
The Amish traditionally relied upon agriculture, but farming has become less profitable
Leaders of a tiny American Christian group, the Amish, have appealed to a US senate hearing on workplace safety for a change to child labour laws to allow teenagers to work in sawmills and woodworking shops.

Centuries-old Amish tradition allows teenagers to serve apprenticeships in sawmills and woodworking shops, but the Labour Department is opposed to the idea because of safety concerns.

You try to teach them learning by doing and that is the way of the Lord

John Byler
Amish sawmill owner
US federal labour laws prohibit children under 16 from working in manufacturing operations such as sawmills and children under 18 from working in other occupations deemed hazardous.

Amish children only attend school until the age of 14 and the Amish want the law changed so that when their sons leave school they can legally work in family owned shops and learn the trade that will provide their livelihoods as adults.


"You try to teach them learning by doing and that is the way of the Lord," said John Byler, a sawmill owner from Harrisville, Pennsylvania, who was fined $3,000 four years ago for employing teenagers.

But Thomas Markey, acting administrator of the employment standards administration's wage and hour division, disagrees.

"Young workers' inexperience, smaller size, immaturity, and lack of training make employment in the woodworking industry even more dangerous," he said.

The Amish, who call themselves the Plain People, generally shun modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones and cars.

Relgious freedom

They have traditionally worked in agriculture, but as farming became less profitable, many began small businesses, especially manufacturing of wood and leather products and quilt-making.

Senator Arlen Specter, chairman of the senate appropriations subcommittee on labour, said changing the law to accommodate the Amish is a matter of protecting their religious freedom.

Mr Specter, said he may propose such a change as an amendment to the education bill that the Senate is considering.

It would be the first time that this issue has been put brought up in the senate.

Tax contributions

Earlier this week, a bill was passed that would increase retirement options for the Amish.

The bill would allow the Amish to deduct from their taxes contributions to retirement accounts.

The Amish have a religious exemption from the social security system because their doctrine precludes them from accepting money from social welfare programs.

Many of the laws governing retirement savings are linked to social security taxes.

Some 150,000 Amish live in America and Canada, with Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana having the largest US Amish populations.

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