Migrants working for migrants: dependence and discourse in Chinese-owned small commercial businesses in South Africa

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Abstract

The nature of work and employment relations of small Chinese migrant businesses in South Africa remains largely under-researched, despite the significant growth of these businesses since the 2000s. Based on 90 interviews with Chinese business owners and their African workers, we found that, although employment relations were largely transactional and adversarial, they sometimes also incorporated symbiotic accommodations with third-country undocumented immigrant workers and pockets of de facto responsible autonomy. Material imbalances of power were notably alleviated through workers’ superior local language skills and cultural familiarity, enabling them to carve out space as intermediaries with customers and other local stakeholders to counter the power of employers. However, this autonomy is relatively small in scope, in large part due to the precarious nature of the employment and the workers’ immigration status.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

Keywords

  • Chinese migrant businesses
  • migrants
  • power and resistance
  • responsible autonomy
  • South Africa

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