This paper engages with the translation of technological upgrading into migrant workers’ opportunities for employment and decent work in agriculture, a sector commonly disregarded in the debate about the future of work in an era of automation. Zooming in on migrant workers in Dutch horticulture, it explores how technological innovation in horticulture is connected to the scope and conditions of employment and proposes a heuristic to conceptualise the observed dynamics. Our analysis that reads interview data with actors in the Dutch agri-food sector through the lens of the global value chain (GVC) literature contrasts with the pessimistic prediction of widespread technological unemployment. We find product upgrading, e.g., into high value-added products, and process upgrading, e.g., through climate control in greenhouses, to offer potential for more and secure employment. However, workers’ higher work intensity and the dismantling of entitlements to rest and reproduction in an attempt to ‘make people work like machines’ represent the underbelly of these dynamics.

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ISS Working Papers - General Series
ISS Working Paper Series / General Series
International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University (ISS)

Siegmann, K. A., Ivosevic, P., & Visser, O. (2021). Working like machines: Exploring effects of technological change on migrant labour in Dutch horticulture (No. 691). ISS Working Paper Series / General Series. Retrieved from