‘We weren’t humans’: Seasonal workers speak up

This piece is part of the Exploits series, from Wicked Leeks and Live Frankly, aiming to highlight the systemic poor conditions faced by people working in food and fashion. Find out more here.

Harsh working conditions, threats of dismissal and being referred to as numbers are some of the conditions seasonal workers face when working on UK farms, according to new testimonies.

Three seasonal workers, along with an investigative journalist who has been covering the conditions under which migrant workers work on UK farms, gave evidence to the House of Lords’ horticultural committee in June, as part of its longer enquiry into the challenges facing the sector at the moment.

“About respect, there wasn’t even a bit of it,” said Vadim Sardov, a former seasonal worker from Kazakhstan who came to the UK in 2022. “The manager was always telling us that he could change us tomorrow and using that fact to manipulate us. Every morning he told us: if you’re not happy, you can leave.”

Sybil Msezane, who came to the UK to work on berry and veg farms after the government seasonal worker scheme opened to South Africans last year, said: “I don’t think the farmer knew that we existed outside of the weight of the fruit that we picked.

“We weren’t humans, we were chattels. We called by our numbers in the mornings. Having previously worked with young people who were incarcerated in the States, that’s the kind of system you use in a prison system.

“On one farm, six to eight adults were expected to share very small caravans and it was mostly expected to be mixed accommodation. If you were seasonal, rather than regular, the kind of treatment you received was very different,” said Msezane, who said her cousin experienced sexual harassment and even with recordings and evidence, received no action.

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About the author

Nina Pullman

Nina Pullman

Nina is editor of Wicked Leeks and a journalist specialising in food sustainability, supply chains and ethical business. She honed her trade at leading trade magazine Fresh Produce Journal, and has written for the Guardian, Huffington Post and The Ecologist. A passionate traveller, she is interested in food as the starting point for discussions about culture, the environment, health, business, politics and beyond. She is on Twitter as @nina_pullman.

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