Labour (Chap 5)

Please Stay!

March '20 Fruit & Veg will run out "unless Britain charters planes to fly in farm workers from eastern Europe". This is caused more by Covid-19 than Brexit, but underlines our vulnerability. "The charity Concordia, was looking to bring in around 10,000 labourers – half from the EU and the rest from Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and Barbados. But all of the non-EU countries are closed. Please Stay

Food & Drink workers become 'Key' workers during Covid19 - just 2 months after they were 'low skilled' workers.

Fruits of someone else's labour

A survey of growers, carried out by the NFU (Oct '19) found "that 1,147 tons of apples have already been wasted during this year’s harvest – and the union warns the figure is likely to be higher." Last month there was 17% labour shortage that has reached 20% this year.

Workers make our food and farm system; yet the role of food and farm workers is largely overlooked in any discussion. They are generally poorly treated all over the world.

Labour Behind the Food System Conference discussed "trafficking, modern slavery, low wages, availability, technological innovation, migration, and several other issues that affect and characterise the life and the future of people who make our food possible" They were also "attentive to the increase in household food insecurity in the country, in particular among farm workers, farmers and workers within the food sector"

Some campaigns for low paid food and farm workers: Coca Cola - Zero rights.

New negotiations on agricultural support: The EU will punish farmers for social dumping. Fraud with wages and working conditions should trigger fines for farmers receiving the lucrative agricultural subsidy. This is the new proposal from the European Parliament.

"If you underpay your agricultural assistant, feed master or pig keeper and do not comply with the rules on working hours, holidays and work permits, it must be costly on the wallet. This is the opinion of the European Parliament, which has adopted an amendment to the Commission's proposal. This states that, for the first time, the EU must link agricultural aid payments with social criteria.This means that it will be possible to impose fines on those farmers who cheat on the scales". This translated from Danish journal as not found anything in UK press.
This figure of 333,000 fits nicely with my suggestion explained in Bittersweet Brexit to use the £3b+ 'CAP' funding to give each farmer/farmworker £10,000 extra instead of pay landowners.


Numbers of people working on the land are difficult to find. According to new book 'Working the Land' by Nicol Verdon there is a total farm workforce in 2000, of 333,000. More than half were farmers, partners, directors & spouses, while the hired workforce was about 140,000; less than half of these are full time. This fell to a quarter 10 years later i.e it is not just a matter of seasonal working, but increased casualisation.
Clarity on where food & farm labour coming from says "Adapting the current Points Based System applied to skilled non-EU nationals is one possibility but this will only provide sufficient access to middle and lower skilled EU workers if a currently unused part of the system (known as ‘Tier 3’) is implemented. However, this is likely to be prohibitively cumbersome and expensive for most food and drink businesses to navigate. Of far greater benefit would be a separate lighter-touch registration scheme for EU nationals with a focus on those sectors (including food and drink) at greatest risk from labour shortages to address any post-Brexit concerns of continuing ‘uncontrolled migration’, which could surely be designed to restrict entry only to those with a job offer in the UK. Current reliance on EU labour could lead to catastrophe in Dairy Sector if access denied in short term.

Invisible workers. Joint report interviews dozens of migrant workers across Europe


Wetherspoons ('Spoons) workers show the plate when somebody asks for more gammon. (See new meaning of word)

See Trade for what Tim Martin CEO of Wetherspoons says about 'No Deal' Brexit. He wants to take away tariffs on imported food - to make food even cheaper in their pubs.

But doing that would wreck any chance of doing Free Trade Deals - as we would have thrown our negotiating hand away.

Launch of Spoons Workers against Brexit Jan 2019

Money where your mouth is an investigation into funding gaps for women founders across the food and agriculture sectors. . The New Food Economy hosted a New York screening of journalist Amy Wu’s documentary, From Farms to Incubators, a look at women of color in the Salinas Valley, and the triumphs and struggles they faced trying to break into the ag-tech sector.

Keep pay ratios in food sector fair. "In the food industry, top bosses can sometimes be paid over a hundred times more than the workers who grow or make our food. This embeds inequalities and means that many of those who provide our sustenance cannot afford to eat well themselves - a bitter irony." And it is the same the world over.

An open Letter on the condition of work and working behind UK food system

Sept '19

A future food system needs "an integrated approach and greater coordination within the food system; attention to the bottlenecks; a broad notion of food workers; intersectionality; transparency and visibility; protection, respect and fulfilment of the workers’ human and labour rights; access to justice and reliable enforcement; and fair access and use of technological innovation."

Agricultural Wages Board

In Bittersweet Brexit I linked the areas of the country (Eastern England) where there are many seasonal EU migrant workers with the push for Brexit; it was the same area where the employers of these workers, pushed for the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB). The 'Plantation owners' complained that the workers had to be paid slightly more than Minimum wage when they worked in the friends, while they could pay them only the Minimum wages when they worked in the packhouses.
Part of the problem now is that the wages are so low, and conditions so poor, that few people living in the UK want to do this sort of outdoor work.
Tories block reinstatement of AWB in Agriculture Bill. "Article 39 of the Treaty of Rome calls for ‘fair standards of living for workers in agriculture’, yet even this minimum commitment to agricultural workers is not included in the Bill".
Jeremy Corbyn promised at the Tolpuddle Festival 2018 that Labour would re-introduce the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB)
Manual workers - in clothing & car manufacture (who voted Brexit) that sell to EU , at greatest risk. "On the other hand, industries such as agriculture may benefit from trade barriers if consumers substitute EU imports for products made in the UK". Indeed they may - if we could produce more overnight. But when the average age of our farmers is 60, the likelihood of them dashing out and producing more zero. To increase home grown production would require massive investment and dramatic improvement in research capabilities. See Going Global


My reference book is 'Plantation Agriculture' by PP Courtenay. It shows how crops have moved round thwe world, primarily related with supplies of cheap labour. They hey transformed farming, all over the world, and particularly in Ireland, leaving massive legacies. Originally they were only on tropical areas, but now they have become temperate. Plantations are charecterised by large tracts of land, usually foreign owned, provision of cheap labour and rowing monocultures. I cal the large fruit and vegetable areas in Easetrn England plantations.
The discontent that drove Brexit emanated from these areas in the East of England growing our vegetables and dependent on EU migrant workers. These plantations, as I call them, are responsible for delivering our fruit and vegetables cheaply. It was these owners who pushed for the abolition of the Agricultural Wages Board (AWB) by the Coalition government. The Board required them to pay a few pence an hour more than the minimum wage, mainly to migrant workers who often also work in the pack-houses, where the AWB did not apply. The employers claimed it was complex. I suggested pay them the AWB rate.
To provide a more sustainable food system - both in terms of the environment and health - we have to change the way it is produced - and pay people a living wage to do so. See Where Brexit started.

Modern Slavery

Modern Slavery Act How leading corporations are responding. How did we let Modern Slavery become part of our food system? "There are the more specific areas of production, where big high-street retailers’ statements acknowledge that forced or trafficked labour, often of refugees, is a well-known and recurring issue: the British and Irish fishing fleets, the UK meat and poultry processing industry, the Thai prawn supply chain, the Italian tomato industry, the Spanish horticulture sector, and the Assam tea chain"
Child Labour in the Food Chain
OECD says (in 'Addressing Brexit and weak productivity') that food sector has high proportion of low skilled workers on zero hour contracts (p59).

Are your tomatoes picked with slave labour?

"How the Italian mafia makes millions by exploiting migrants "


There are plans to allow prisoners prisoners to work in the community on a day release programme. The UK’s Minister for Justice David Gauke is planning (June '19) to ease rules in UK prisons that would see low-risk prisoners allowed work as part of a day release until their sentence is completed. However, with the labour shortfall estimated to be approaching 10,000 workers, the NFU (who first proposed the idea in 2012) has called for a solution that ensures farmers have access to a competent and reliable workforce.

Migrant Workers

Potential 'cliff edge' labour shortage facing dairy farms. RABDF Managing Director said "It is clear there is confusion between seasonal workers in certain food producing sectors compared to the skilled and permanent needs of those in dairy farming". Nearly 20% of all dairy farms employ some foreign workers in their workforce. Consultants Kite said that the supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the industry.
One of the UK’s biggest berry farms is moving part of its operations to China because it claims it can’t find enough workers. However, Unite said the agricultural sector would be able to find domestic labour sources if workers were paid, treated and trained properly, Unite News Online February said the agricultural sector would be able to find domestic labour sources if workers were paid, treated and trained properly...and then quoted Bittersweet Brexit saying we should pay proper Living Wage to 300,000 permanent land workers.
The Shadow rural spokesperson Sue Hayman said If Labour came to power, one of the first three things she wanted to tackle were 'ensuring farm businesses could continue to employ from overseas'. Hmm, but wasn't that what led to Brexit in the first place? Many people living in these plantation areas will feel cheated that we have gone to all the trouble of leaving the largest Single Market in the world, but the original concerns remain.Food Suppliers feel the pinch too
Many food and drink suppliers face a double hit from higher import costs and a fall in UK consumer spending that has made their customers extra cost-conscious. Rises in the minimum wage and growing labour shortages have added extra internal pressure. Several food suppliers - they are not the famous names but those who slice our potatoes, pack out lettuce and move our beer about, are feeling the pinch. A vegetable supplier, a dessert supplier and drinks wholesaler have already gone. The signs of stress in the “casual dining” sector is also “a bit of a worry”.
Britain’s own Costa Coffee reports that some 20% of its staff are not British citizens. It supports the so-called Barista visa proposal which would allow short-term working visas for some positions.
Better pay would fill farm labour shortage says 'Sustain'. More in 'Why would anyone want to pick our crops?

Please Stay!

On yer bike

"Unemployed should get on their bikes and find work on a farm with 'gorgeous' European women" says Tory MP. He said he had been misquoted but young people should be more willing to move to find work. Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine said: "These remarks are as misogynistic as they are ignorant. It seems the spirit of Norman Tebbit is still running the Conservative Party, Maybe Mr Mackinlay should follow his own advice and start picking fruit rather than picking fights."
More UK citizens should work in agriculture. "Food industry executives are calling on the UK government to encourage more young people to pursue vocational training in the agricultural sector, amid concerns surrounding access to labour after Brexit."
Environment Minister Owen Paterson said (in private but exposed in 2019) “Get pensioners to pick fruit and vegetables in the fields...He even had the cheek to say that because they would probably be a bit slow, they should be paid less than the minimum wage so as not to waste the farmers’ money."

Farm Safety

2018-19: 39 deaths on farms, 32 farmers/farmworkers, 7 members of the public - making farming still most dangerous place to work.

Farmer finded for fatality of worker falling through roof
Latest appalling death toll
Farms are the most dangerous place to work - by far. Almost half of the 29 people killed in 2017 almost half were aged 65 or more. Unlike all other sectors, where it is the young that are more likely to be killed, older farmwers and farmworkers have to try and avoid moving objects - like tractors or animals, but find it harder to escape. Probably the best way to lower the appalling record is to alter the tax regime, so many farmers are are not condemned to live out all their lives on a farm (so that it can be passed on without tax) to enable ot be be a 'going concern' to hand over to children. Cattle handler killed at Gisburn Market by bull..fits farm fatality profile, older farmers at danger from moving animals (and machinery)Farm worker killed in potato harvester in Lincolnshire. Elderly farmer found dead while tending livestock. Many of the fatalities are among elderly people and moving vehicles and animals.Rate of farm fatalities in 2017-18 - as bad as ever over 4X rate in construction.
While representing Unite rural workers on the HSE 5 years ago, I argued that there should be a risk assessment surrounding the introduction of new laws allowing bigger tractors to go faster on our roads. In August 2018, at a check in the South of England, all farm vehicles checked were found to be defective - some so much so they had to be taken off the road there and then

Food Safety

McBurned Campaign "McDonald’s workers told BFAWU organisers they routinely experienced slips on spills that had not been cleaned or signposted, musculoskeletal pain from long periods of standing with inadequate rest breaks, or exposure to air pollution while staffing Drive-Thru windows. But burns on hot surfaces and fat fryers topped the list of under-reported painful problems." #mcburned