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Title: ‘I am not a number’ Exploring the wellbeing of seasonal farm workers in the UK
Authors: Saxby, Heidi Janice
Issue Date: 2020
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: Most seasonal workers on UK farms currently come from countries in Eastern Europe. Many are highly transient, and shuttle between the UK and their home country in response to work. Seasonal farm work is typically precarious, arduous and socially isolating. Although evidence suggests that returnee workers who have accumulated expertise and knowledge are highly valued by farmers, their work is often poorly paid and categorised as low-skilled. Despite having an important role in horticultural production, little is known about seasonal workers’ wellbeing. The research conducted for this thesis took a case study approach to four farms in Yorkshire, England, all of which produce soft fruits and vegetables. Ethnographic methods were used to understand the wellbeing of the farms’ seasonal workers. Language barriers, political and industrial sensitivities about migrant labour and tight industrial deadlines necessitated a highly flexible approach to data collection. This utilised informal conversation and participant observation with workers, as well as unstructured interviews with farmers and other people working in or associated with food and farming industries. The collection of data followed the 2016 referendum, in which a marginal vote led to a decision that the UK would leave the EU. The UK’s long-standing shortages of seasonal farm workers became worse after the EU referendum’s result, and three years after the referendum are now described by the industry as critical. This thesis provides an original contribution to an extensive field of literature about seasonal workers. It discusses the ways in which farms’ psychosocial and material conditions might support or hinder workers’ wellbeing, and how workers’ decisions to return to the same farm(s) in subsequent years might thus be affected. The main contributions of this thesis can be summarised within the following themes. Farms with human-centric workplace cultures are more conducive to wellbeing; workers’ wellbeing is supported by opportunities for physical and psychological relief from the farm; returneeism and employment on ‘good’ farms supports wellbeing and may positively influence subsequent farm employment. Finally, it is possible to support workers’ wellbeing through several simple and relatively low-cost on farm initiatives.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis.
Appears in Collections:School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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