Over the summer of 2022, I secured work on a fruit-picking farm in order to gain experience and insight into the realities of the agricultural sector, and to facilitate building contacts with seasonal workers. My first shift on the farm – a gruelling twelve-hour introduction to farmwork – set the tone for the rest of the season. It was marked by three distinct events: a wildcat strike coordinated by a group of Bulgarian workers; a collective disciplinary meeting, where a senior manager subjected us to an intimidating barrage of insults and mockery; and, facilitated by a collective disdain towards this boss, an immediate forging of solidarity between a group of Nepali workers.

Over the course of the season, I fell in with these workers, and together we formed a tight-knit group of comrades with a shared understanding of exploitation and struggle. The following report, split into two parts, grew out of this experience. It constitutes a workers’ inquiry: an expression of direct experience of work and struggle in the agricultural sector.

The first part of this inquiry provides some introductory context explaining the Seasonal Worker Visa, labour recruitment practices, and the labour-process on British farms: with a specific discussion of some of the strategies employed in the exploitation of workers in agriculture. The second part consists of a migrant workers’ testimony outlining the scams and debt-engineering practices that are endemic in international labour recruitment for the Seasonal Worker Visa. This inquiry is one part of a greater project, involving collective political work through our farmworker solidarity network. We encourage anyone interested in sharing information or supporting our efforts to get in touch with us here: [email protected].


The UK agricultural sector, and the wider food industry, relies heavily on migrant workers. In the interval between the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the end of EU free-movement in December 2020, an estimated 75,000 workers were seasonally employed in fruit and vegetable picking each year – 98% of these workers recruited from Eastern Europe1. Alongside seasonal workers, 27,000 additional EU nationals were based in the UK as permanent workers in agriculture, supplementing a further 116,000 EU workers employed in related food-manufacturing. This brings the total estimated number of workers from the EU employed in UK agriculture and agricultural-related industries to 218,000 on the eve of Brexit – not including hundreds of thousands of workers in related supply-chains).2

In order to prepare for the recruitment of workers post-Brexit, a new visa scheme was created in 2019: the Seasonal Worker Visa (SWV). Tying workers to licensed recruitment agencies (‘scheme operators’), whose permission they need to change employers; preventing them from working outside the agricultural sector; and limiting their right to live in the UK to six months, the Seasonal Worker Visa is one of the strictest visa schemes in Europe: a reflection of the contemporary anti-migrant political climate in the UK. When the research for this inquiry began (in 2020-21), there were four recruitment agencies hiring for the SWV, each of them licensed by the UK government: AG Recruitment, Concordia, Pro-Force, and Fruitful Jobs. Initially, the vast majority of workers recruited were from Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. However, since the outbreak of war in Eastern Europe, some of the UK’s licensed recruitment agencies have started to operate in areas they have no pre-existing history with. In 2022, after Ukraine, the majority of workers recruited through the SWV came from Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Nepal.3

In the course of my time working in the sector, most of the workers I met were from Nepal, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan: all recruited through the Seasonal Worker Visa. For the majority of these workers, their time in the UK was invariably described in negative and extreme terms, and frequently compared to ‘slavery’. There are many reasons for this: the severity of exploitation within agricultural workplaces themselves, and the peculiar nature of these workplaces; the strict conditions of the SWV; and the powers of recruitment agencies to whom workers are ‘tied’ for the duration of their visa. All of these overlap to create a particularly vulnerable class of workers relegated to the periphery of UK society. ‘Not just a lower class visa, but a lower class of people’: this is how one Nepali worker expressed his feelings about this to me. In order to understand this reality better, to grasp the extent of exploitation – engineered not just by employers on farms, but by the state itself – we need to consider migrant workers’ situations in greater detail. For so many, this begins with the creation of debt.

Not only do workers have to pay for expensive flights to travel to the UK, but most of the workers I met during my time at the farm had paid extortionate fees in order to secure a place on the scheme. With the labour market for overseas recruitment in countries like Nepal dominated by deceitful and exploitative third-party brokers, many workers are scammed into paying thousands of pounds in illegal recruitment fees. In order to understand this process, I interviewed a Nepali worker from the farm. His testimony is included in the next chapter: a detailed and comprehensive account of the role of labour-brokers in facilitating a situation akin to debt-bondage on the UK Seasonal Worker Visa.

The Workplace

As workers on the farm explained: it was only after they arrived in the UK and started working that they realised the full extent of this situation. At this point, workers have to contend with the fact they will be spending the entirety of their time in the UK working off debt, essentially receiving less than nothing for their time and labour. Not only is this complicated due to the magnitude of the fees paid, but the pain of recuperating this money is further exacerbated by the specific organisation of work on British farms. Having first reckoned with exploitative and deceitful brokers in their home countries, migrant workers next face a new challenge: dealing with employers in the British agricultural sector.

At the farm I worked, conditions were, according to most workers, markedly better than other sites. Yet, even at this comparatively good farm, the drive to maximise production, to pressure everyone to exert themselves to the extreme, was routine. One of the overarching reasons for this is the intense pressure farmers face in producing for supermarkets. With huge monopolies in the retail sector, supermarkets facilitate a race to the bottom in terms of prices. In their own declarations, the owners of the farm admitted to being unable to sustain their business in the long-term due to the paltry amounts offered by supermarkets for their crops (an estimated £1.59 per kilo of fruit during a glut at the height of the season).

These serious concerns have led to recurring narratives of farmer victimisation in the media.4 What is missing from these accounts is the fact that the pressures faced by farmers are passed on to workers, who are in turn ‘squeezed’ through the implementation of various strategies for the extraction of maximum quantities of surplus-value: the value produced by workers above the value of their wages. What employers face in declining profit margins, workers experience in the aches and pains of damaged bodies, sweating for over twelve hours a day to meet the minimum piece work ‘target’ inside scorching polyethylene tunnels. In order to better understand these strategies employed by the bosses, it is first necessary to outline the day-to-day rhythms of work on a farm.

The Organisation of Work

A normal day begins early, at the crack of dawn. At the height of the season, workers usually have to be up at 4am, in order to start work for 5am. Sometimes, in the haste to maximise production, work would begin ridiculously early, while it was still pitch dark, so that we had to sit around in the field and wait for the sun to come up. In spite of all this preparation, nobody is paid for this time. You only ‘clock-in’ (or ‘scan-in’) after everything is set up. Sometimes it could take fifteen minutes just to collect a cart and haul it to the relevant field. And this time is prolonged because most of the carts have busted, punctured tyres, meaning you have to spend a lot of time searching for a suitable cart and hope that it doesn’t buckle later under the weight of hundreds of kilograms of fruit. In this way, there is a lot of wasted time and a lot of unpaid preparatory work before the day really begins.

Once you are finally scanned-in and on-the-clock, there is a scramble to collect trays. Everyone fills their trays with punnets, then fills their cart with trays, before heading to pick the fruit, which grows in rows inside huge polyethylene tunnels. With four rows per tunnel, there is enough room for five workers to pick inside each tunnel. Once you have filled your trays with fruit, you then label these with your employee barcode and take them to the Quality Control (QC) station, where the fruit is inspected, weighed and loaded onto trailers, and where supervisors scan your barcode labels, recording how much you have produced. Once these trailers are full, the fruit is transported elsewhere to be processed and prepared for delivery to supermarkets.

Each worker is expected to pick at least five trays of fruit – about twenty kilograms worth – every hour.5 This is the piece work target. There is no scope or allowances for experience or ability. Workers are initially told that there will be a training period of two weeks, during which we will learn the rhythm and pace, and be exempt from the target. However, not only was practically no training actually offered, but on my first shift we were even told that if we didn’t improve our picking speeds, we’d have our hours cut. ‘I don’t care if it’s your first day’, the field manager shouted at us: ‘this is not a holiday… you are here to work.’

The work, of course, is incredibly difficult. Your back aches, constantly, being stuck performing repetitive motions over and over again, with no variation in movement except for when you haul your cart full of trays to be collected. Inside the polyethylene tunnels, the temperature becomes so hot you often get a headache. Every worker carries their own stories from different farms about the effects of the work. Back pain is the most common, as well as cuts to hands and fingers. Some workers even recount seeing co-workers faint and lose consciousness from the heat and the conditions.

The Length of the Working-Day

The length of the working-day also varies. Often you are in the fields picking for twelve hours. Sometimes even longer, for up to fourteen hours. Others are shorter. What is particularly excruciating about this is that you never know when the work will end: if you will be finished after ten hours, or after eleven, or after twelve. One shift, I was sent home early for failing to meet the piece work target after twelve and a half hours of work. An exhausted co-worker tried to join me, but a supervisor shouted after him telling him he couldn’t leave yet.

Not only can farms increase the length of the working-day at will, but the length of the normal working week can also be stretched to its maximum possible limit. For example, my first week on the farm lasted seven days in a row (for most workers) before a day off, with no clear indication to workers that they are entitled to 24 hours uninterrupted rest every seven days (that is, within a seven-day period, not afterwards). One worker recounted to me how, in previous years, the working week could continue for up to thirteen days in a row without any days off, at the peak of the season.

Some employers believe (or, at least, they claim) that they are exempt from normal working time regulations because agricultural work is seasonal. This is not the case. A manager told me, when I highlighted these problems, that they know the law better than me. Whether they know the law or not, the important thing to emphasise here is that they are able to get away with this. In this way, employers extract quantities of absolute surplus-value from workers, through increasing the length of both the working-day and the working-week.

At the other extreme, sometimes there will not be enough work to go around, due in part to the fluctuating and seasonal nature of agricultural production: but more so due to the failings of the state and the recruitment agencies to create a system that works for workers. For example, many workers are recruited mid-way through the season, or even after the peak of the season, so that they arrive in the UK when fruit and vegetable production is at an unavoidable lull. With no work, these workers are still liable for rent, gas, and electricity, and many farmers are happy to ‘employ’ them as such, exploiting their status as trapped victims of an absurd system.

This happened to many workers I know who left the farm to find work elsewhere when the season dried up. Employers would accept them, and their agency facilitated the transfers, only for these workers to end up paying for the privilege of unemployment. Reporting the situation to their agency, they told me that the recruitment agency had simply told them to better manage their own finances. Struggling to eat, let alone pay off debt, these workers had to rely on fragile interpersonal networks for money and support.

Pay, Piece Work and Lay-Offs

On the farm, everyone was paid hourly: either the National Minimum Wage, which in 2022 was £9.50 per hour, or else the £10.10 per hour rate fixed by the Seasonal Worker Visa. However, these are merely nominal figures. The farm employed a piece work system, allowing them to set high targets, and in order not to be sent home midway through the day, you have to meet the minimum target. In this way, even though workers are paid hourly, piece work drives the whole labour-process, and the use of lay-offs allow farmers to undercut minimum wage in real terms. Indeed, the command ‘back to the caravan’ was the farmers’ greatest weapon. It was used relentlessly. After a month of work, groups ranging from seven to fourteen of us would regularly be sent back to our caravans after having only worked a few hours each shift. Subsequent disciplinary days off for slower pickers were also common, all the while workers are still required to pay rent, gas, and electricity costs to the employer. With weekly payslips regularly showing measly earnings of less than £200, you can imagine the toll this has on workers who paid thousands of pounds in fees.

Recently, the government has introduced new legislation which requires farmworkers employed through the Seasonal Worker Visa to be guaranteed a minimum of 32 hours of work per week.6 If followed, this could alleviate some of the worst effects of these lay-offs. Yet, the letter of the law only goes so far in isolated rural workplaces. What guarantee is there that this will be effectively implemented? It is also the law that employers must pay workers for their labour time, yet many also experience blatant acts of wage-theft. This too is closely connected with piece work.

To take one example: over the course of several weeks in August 2022, groups of workers began to complain that they were not receiving their piece work bonuses. The bonuses they had earned had been calculated and publicly posted, for all to see, on printed lists detailing workers’ performances – which acted as a means to motivate (and, by extension, to shame) workers into increasing productivity. These lists, and the bonus figures, were drawn up by the farm owners themselves, with each individual daily bonus carefully highlighted next to each successful workers’ name. Yet, these bonuses never found their way into workers’ payslips.

Initially, a group of Azerbaijani workers complained to the farm office about this. They told me that the manager simply sent them away, apologising for the lack of payment, claiming ‘no bonus this week’. A couple of us insisted on speaking with the owner to demand they rectify this issue on behalf of these workers (whose poor English no-doubt contributed to their being swindled). The owner just made a list of excuses, and ultimately never sorted the problem. Employers can easily have recourse to plausible deniability in these instances: blaming some accident or oversight. Despite bringing these particular issues up directly with the owner, these workers’ bonuses remained unpaid, and no corrections were made for them. Yet, extra value was created: pocketed entirely by the farm.

For other workers, whatever the total hours worked per week, this would regularly be misrecorded on our payslips. Often a few hours of overtime would be missing, sometimes many hours, and for some workers even whole days of work would be missing. On almost every payslip I received throughout my time at the farm, the hours recorded were significantly fewer than those I recorded myself, each day, in my diary. Comparing the two data sets reveals a significant under-recording of hours forming a distinct pattern. This is not one or two mistakes. It is reflected on almost every payslip. Over the course of six weeks, my average earnings amounted to £204.80 per week (after deductions for rent): reflecting regular lay-offs and disciplinary days off.

Bullying and Intimidation

Another common feature of the labour-process involves managers pressuring workers. Sharing stories together after our first shift, the Nepali comrades told me about their previous farm, where the owner (known to everyone simply as ‘the bastard’) would scream at workers and make physical kicking motions with his legs, threatening to ‘kick them’ out of the farm if they didn’t work fast enough. He would make everyone line up in the morning, the workers told me, like a military drill, even in the rain, before allowing them to go into the fields. This kind of treatment was compared to ‘slavery’ by the Nepalis, who, after refusing to work in such an environment, had to repeatedly pressure their agency to arrange a transfer.

You can build a little rapport with some supervisors. Being close to the workers, living onsite in the caravans, some of these guys are capable of great solidarity. But just as most workers have experience of decent supervisors, so too do just as many encounter despotic bosses who have no qualms with shouting, threatening, insulting, and intimidating. On one particular shift, I witnessed a European supervisor aggressively scream in a young Uzbek worker’s face, simply because he tried to submit his trays at the beginning of a break. It was his first shift, and he was confused. The supervisor then proceeded to push him, and the worker ran away.

A few of us confronted this supervisor, but he only became more aggressive. ‘You cannot show them your weak side’, a co-worker confided in me: ‘first they will take advantage with their words, then physically. Better to break their noses, say ‘fuck your job!’ and quit.’ ‘For us, honour is more important than money’, he added. This same worker would later tell me of a confrontation he witnessed between a worker and a supervisor on another farm. Teased and insulted, a young Central Asian worker reportedly broke the supervisor’s nose.

One day, feeling sick, I told my roommate to inform the supervisor that I wouldn’t make it into work. Within an hour, the field manager was banging on my door: pounding the sides of the caravan with their fists. I explained I felt sick, only for them to try and intimidate me with warnings, and tell me that, because I was from the UK, I should know about ‘the law’. Later that day they issued me with a disciplinary letter. These kinds of threats are used by managers to try and intimidate migrant workers who rely on visa sponsorship and are unfamiliar with their rights in the UK. An Indonesian friend told me a similar story, about how he too decided to take a day off from work whilst working at a farm in Kent. It was the seventh day of working in a row, and his back was killing him, he explained, after working thirteen-hour shifts with no breaks. Yet a manager at that farm also aggressively pounded on his door, intimidating him, telling him he had ‘five minutes to get to the field’ – which he admitted he did, in a state of duress.


Above, I mentioned how some Nepali workers were able to arrange a transfer from one farm to another, by refusing to work and pressuring their agency to find them another placement. The fact that workers had to pressure their agency to do this reveals a recurring problem: labour-providers fundamentally failing in their duty to look after their sponsored workers’ welfare.7 Yet, it also reveals the power and leverage workers have: by refusing to work, and standing up for themselves, the workers were able to change their situation.

For many workers on the SWV, this process is experienced in reverse, as workers are also regularly transferred to different farms without having a choice. An Uzbek friend recounted how, on one farm, he and a group of other workers were called into their manager’s office after their shift. The manager told them to pack their things, that they’d be leaving for another farm the next morning. With no choice offered in the matter, and with no notice given, he described feeling like a ‘slave’ in the UK, trafficked around to different workplaces as and when it suited employers. He once also told me he felt like a ‘half-slave’, and that all workers could do was try their best not to become ‘full slaves’, as he saw it.

This kind of treatment is facilitated by the strict conditions of the Seasonal Worker Visa: allowing workers to work solely in agriculture, this not only isolates workers, suturing them to rural workplaces, but the terms of the visa do not even allow workers freedom in applying for jobs to different farms. It is for the farmers and agencies to decide if transfers can be permitted. Tying workers to agencies in this way has recently led to comparisons of the Seasonal Worker Visa to the Kafala system used by states in the Gulf Cooperation Council like Qatar and the UAE: a migration system underpinning some of the world’s worst contemporary labour abuses.8 Assessments like this might horrify readers into thinking: could things possibly be so bad on UK farms that it is like the Gulf states?

Ironically, many of the workers recruited through the SWV actually have extensive experience working in these countries. On the farm, workers deployed similar comparisons themselves. One Indonesian worker told me that working in the transport industry in Dubai, where the state withheld his passport, was ultimately a far greater experience than working in the UK. And, as a Nepali worker recounts below, to go to work in Qatar today, there are established visa centres in Kathmandu which pay for both your visa and your flights, thus avoiding the notorious debt-bondage that accompanied most Nepali workers travelling to the UK. So, for workers, often the comparison is the reverse: work on British farms is not compared to slave-like conditions in the Gulf states, but the brutal reality of the SWV is used to measure what, in some migrant workers’ own declarations, are comparatively better standards of life and labour in Qatar and the UAE.


In contemporary accounts of farmwork in the UK, workers are portrayed almost exclusively as victims of the system, reduced to a passive role. This is true of mainstream media coverage, investigative journalism, and academic studies. Every year, we hear stories about crammed and unsanitary living conditions, about pitiful wages, and about exploitation. Yet, nowhere has it been asked: to what extent do these conditions facilitate solidarity and resistance amongst the workforce?

On my first shift at the farm, I witnessed a group of around twenty Bulgarian workers take strike action against the bosses. Angrily shouting and complaining about pay, they walked off together in protest against discrimination and paltry wages. Due to language barriers and a general division between nationalities, most of us were unaware of what was actually happening, and assumed they were being sent to work in another field. Unwitting strike-breakers, it was only towards the end of the shift that we realised what had transpired, when a manager went around complaining about the Bulgarians and their strike.

A deliberate attempt was made to isolate these workers. Two separate supervisors had complained about Bulgarians, calling them ‘Gypsies’, and smearing them as aggressive and hostile. These kinds of racist stereotypes seemed to be a specific prejudice amongst Eastern European managers, and I did not have the impression it was deliberately stoked by the employers. Nevertheless, racist discrimination, disgusting in and of itself, serves to divide workers, and functions in the interest and to the advantage of the employer. At this farm, it did not work. With the Nepali workers, we would regularly attempt to build solidarity with the Bulgarian workers, overcoming language barriers by using auto-translate voice apps on our phones, and regularly drinking and sharing food together in our caravans.

Asking about their strike, how they coordinated it, and what could be done to support them, I was sad to learn how discriminated against these workers felt, and how ineffective their attempts to resist this proved. Later, the majority of Bulgarian workers left the UK altogether, citing poor pay and conditions as the main reason for their early departure.

This would not be the last attempt at strike action on the farm. About a month later, a group of Indonesian workers staged a similarly spontaneous action. They explained it all to me over dinner. After being told to wait at the back of the line to scan-in, behind everyone else, despite arriving at the field first, a large group of these workers immediately walked off the job and returned to their caravans. They decided this amongst themselves, right there on the spot: to refuse to work. They also developed a plan, a solidarity pact, that if one worker was laid off and sent back to their caravan, then all the other Indonesian workers would join them. This later failed, but it is important to document these conversations and plans, and to emphasise the dignity with which these workers attempted to stand for their rights. The fact that, within a month, two separate strikes had occurred in a single workplace, is a significant reflection of resistance, and hints at the possibilities for coordinated struggle in the sector. Unfortunately, these Indonesian workers also later decided to leave and return to their country, citing the conditions and the lack of respect they had received during their time working in the UK.

Other acts of resistance were common. In response to the non-payment of bonuses, as described above, workers staged a deliberate slow-down, refusing to exceed the minimum target. Many workers would also sacrifice their piece work bonuses in order to help out slower pickers, by giving out extra punnets of fruit they had collected in order to ‘top-up’ friends and ensure they were meeting the minimum target. Alongside consistent camaraderie outside of working hours, these small moments in the labour-process – these moments of solidarity and cooperation – offer a glimpse into the possibilities for organising with workers in the sector.

Resistance is not simply a potentiality; it was practised day-in and day-out on the farm. Just as capital relies on specific moments to extract value from workers, so too do workers create their own moments, out of which grow the possibilities of a different way of organising production: one that works in the interests of workers, of people in general, and not of profits and capital. This is not to say that organisation is straightforward or simple. Far from it. Reflecting on these moments of resistance, workers recognised they could only go so far, mainly due to the limiting and authoritarian nature of their visas.

A Significant Meeting

Many workers invariably spoke of their desire to fight back against exploitation, frustrated only by their visa status and the threats of disciplinary action and even deportation by their agency if they caused trouble or spoke out. So, for trade-unionists and other organisations in the UK, what should be done to support these workers? In the middle of the season in 2022, a group of militant workers met up with a comrade from the trade-union movement with a long-standing history of supporting migrant workers’ struggles. Together we came up with a set of ideas for exercising leverage and fighting against lay-offs, based entirely on the position and experiences we already had within the workplace.

Reflecting on some of the actions already undertaken that secured workers small victories – like refusing to work until the agency facilitated a transfer, or going as a group to complain about underpayment at the farm’s office – we considered how this unity could be expanded. For example, if the farmer regularly sends seven workers back to the caravan, what will they do if, one day, twenty-seven other workers join them? At the peak of summer, when yields are high, fruit has to be picked and sent to supermarkets quickly. By demanding that either all of us pick the fruit, regardless of pace and ability, or else none of us pick, then workers can exercise significant leverage. Within days of our meeting, other workers would try this (as mentioned above): developing the same strategy on a smaller scale, and entirely spontaneously, without our interventions. By uniting together across nationalities, all that is needed is a critical mass.

Every day, workers pick tonnes of crops. Submitting your trays before each break, you stand there before these massive stacks of crates, overflowing with produce: mountains of fruit, representing mountains of value. What appears as a crushing symbol of exploitation can also be flipped into a tool of our strength. Before appearing on any supermarket shelf, before having a price-tag, before transforming into a single iota of ‘value’: crops have to pass through the fists of workers. On farms, with so many grievances and problems, there are a million opportunities to demonstrate common interests and organise for workers’ power. This is not to say that it is a simple matter of turning up and ‘organising the workplace’ – as if anyone can just do this. But workers are already resisting at an immediate level, and need the support of other organised workers across the trade-union movement. It is the purpose of workers’ inquiry to highlight these moments, which are the basis for organising.

Outside of workers’ own efforts and the solidarity that could be shown by the trade-union movement, there are really no sources of support. One of the sobering points established in our meeting was that all official channels are essentially useless. For example, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA), ostensibly existent to prevent labour exploitation in agriculture, has in recent years received less funding than the Home Office has spent on printing, publishing and stationery (Mellino, Pangeni & Pattisson, 2022). Since the Immigration Act 2016, they have also increasingly collaborated with UK Visas and Immigration and Immigration Enforcement, so migrant workers don’t really trust them (Noble, 2020). There are effectively no straightforward routes, no safe official channels, to help and support workers.

Looking Forward

Despite these bleak realities, following our meeting with the trade-union comrade, workers had a bit more confidence that someone outside the isolated farm, someone in the UK, was actually there listening to them and offering support. The only way real and effective change will emerge is through similar acts of solidarity, through coordination and organisation with workers themselves. This is not to say that other political realms should be ignored. Indeed, it is essential that those concerned about this exploitation direct their attention towards reform of the Seasonal Worker Visa: to enable workers to have a minimum of freedom and flexibility during their time in the UK, to organise freely and advance their interests. At the same time, struggles in the workplace, of which the agricultural sector contains an extreme variety, represent struggles over the organisation of work: and this is a question for trade-unionists and socialists to consider as much as anyone in established positions of power.

So, for these comrades, what should be done? Workers on farms need to know that there exist networks that can offer their time and resources without charging and ripping them off. A farmworker bulletin – circulated digitally and physically to different farms – could establish a useful means for communication: urging workers to share information about working conditions and grievances on different farms. This could also help to unify workers, and to point them in the direction of migrant solidarity networks that can give solid legal advice. Trade-unions should work with these groups and organisations, and offer workers their time and resources: to establish trust, give advice, and represent workers on disputes on farms. By regularly reaching out in this way, more networks can be built, like the one started in the course of this inquiry. Whilst there is no model for organisation in the sector, the building of such networks can act as an experiment in finding that model.

Unions in the retail sector could also follow Unite’s model of pursuing leverage campaigns, utilising their resources and power within the retail sector to support workers’ rights and struggles in agriculture. Farms, after all, are only one factor, though a central one, in a greater supply chain of food commodities. Too often, supermarkets shirk responsibility for driving exploitation in the sector. A crucial element in any future organising effort in the agricultural sector, the crushing monopolies in the retail sector have to be challenged. Over the next growing seasons, we are planning to campaign to raise awareness about these issues: to encourage other movements, organisations, and the public to support our efforts and get involved in the struggle.

This report has attempted to convey the most pressing issues experienced by workers on the SWV, and in the agricultural sector in general. It offers, necessarily, only a glimpse of the sector, but one which conveys the realities, as I see them. There are many other stories to tell from the 2022 season, and more will emerge as we enter the picking season for 2023. It is hoped that this report will be considered by comrades across the trade-union movement, and that we can work together to support workers’ struggles in one of the most intensive, and important, sectors in the country. A particular regime, offering workers the strictest rigidity and employers the greatest flexibility - a form of labour apartheid, a British Kafala - has to be challenged. This begins by bridging the apartheid gap that separates tens of thousands of migrants from the trade-union movement and wider UK civil society.

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Clark McAllister

Clark McAllister is a writer and researcher.