06 Apr, 2023

Why we should stop using the term "labour" in the Irish farming sector

First published in the Irish Farmers Journal on 6th April 2023.

Our Head of Food & AgriBusiness, David Leydon, outlines why he believes it is time to move beyond the term "labour" in agriculture.

Language matters. It shapes our perceptions and attitudes towards the people and things around us. In the Irish farming sector, the term "labour" has been used for too long to describe the people who work on farms across the country. 

The term “labour” is fine from an economics perspective. It accurately describes the input that is required to produce output. However, when discussing people, the term "labour" can be perceived as demeaning. It does nothing to make a person feel valued or respected. It's a transactional term that takes away from the sector as an attractive place to work. In an industry that is being increasingly digitised, where machinery worth a few hundred thousand euro is used, the requirement for a wide range of skills and abilities to be effective on a farm are more evident than ever.

The term "labour" has strong echoes, in an Irish farming context, of the wandering labourer or the spailpín fánach, the landless labourer who travelled the roads and worked on farms from the 1820s right through to the 1960s. This is an outdated term which we should not be using today. It is often associated with drudgery, slog, and strain. It's not linked to progressiveness, positivity, or a team-orientated mentality. 

Instead of "labour", we should use terms like, "team", "talent", and "colleagues". We should work on providing people with job titles that show progress in the industry. Of course, using the right terms is not a panacea – if the employer doesn’t follow through with excellent working conditions, good communication, decent salaries and tons of respect then using the right title will not make any difference. However, to attract great people to the full range of roles available in the farming sector, we must make the sector as attractive as possible. And that starts with the language we use.

Government, state agencies, as well as influential co-ops and of course the Irish Farmers Journal, can all take the lead on this issue. Using the right language is only a start, training people to be excellent managers and employers is vital as is building our “industry brand” as a great place to build a career in the minds of potential colleagues. 

It's time to start using language that reflects the value and importance of the people who work very hard on farms right across the country. Let's make the farming industry a place where people feel valued, respected, and part of a team. It is time to move beyond the term "labour" in agriculture.