(March 17, 10:10 a.m.)Backing off a proposal that the Bush administration fought a legal battle for, the Department of Labor is suspending H-2A guest worker program rules that went into effect in January.

The regulations would have made it easier for growers to qualify for the program and they changed the way guest worker wages are calculated. First proposed in February 2008, the rules went into effect Jan. 17. The Obama administration announced on March 13 intentions to put those changes on hold for nine months.

Public comments are being accepted through March 27 on the proposed suspension.

The Department of Labor and State Workforce Agencies are not ready for the new rules, according to a statement from the department.

“As we move forward with implementing the final rule, however, it is rapidly becoming evident that the department and the (State Workforce Agencies) may lack sufficient resources to effectively and efficiently implement the H-2A final rule,” it said. “This has already resulted in processing delays; the delays will become even greater as applications for the upcoming growing season are now being filed with the department.”

The Department of Labor proposed that the prior rules be reinstated for nine months while it reexamines the regulation.

“Because many stakeholders have raised concerns about the H-2A regulations, this proposed suspension is the prudent and responsible action to take,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, in a news release. “Suspending the rule would allow the department to review and reconsider the regulation, while minimizing disruption to the state workforce agencies, employers and workers.”

The Washington, D.C.-based National Council of Agricultural Employers said growers already have started filing paperwork for workers under the new rules.

“Suspension of the new rules at this late stage will be confusing and could be devastating to farm employers while pending applications and contracts,” the organization said in a news release.

Keene, Calif.-based United Farm Workers union and Washington, D.C.-based Farmworker Justice organization unsuccessfully sued the Department of Labor, and a U.S. district court judge declined to issue a restraining order on the changes in January.

The unions argued in their lawsuit that the regulations would lower wages in the field and make it easier for contractors to ignore hiring legal U.S. workers.