Precariousness and Reciprocity at Work: Interethnic Labour Relations at Times of Uncertainty in Santiago

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Carol CHAN, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile
Carolina RAMÍREZ, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile
Carolina STEFONI, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Chile
Chile's migrant population has more than doubled in the last decade, where people from diverse ethnic backgrounds are increasingly visibly participating in the social, cultural and economic life of diverse commercial neighbourhoods of Santiago, Chile. Simultaneously, divisive xenophobic social discourses regarding difference and concerns about the "illegality" of migrants and their labour have only recently been publicly and politically deployed. Echoing broader sociopolitical processes taking place in many countries worldwide during this Brexit/Trump era, discourses about migration in the Chilean context push for more migration restrictions in terms of the issuing of work permits and visas. Moreover, such stances inform daily interactions and stereotypes about the migrant and ethnic groups that participate in Santiago's multicultural commercial areas. Within this context, this paper critically contributes to research on precarious migrant labour. Such work has typically constructed migrants’ vulnerability in terms of labour exploitation and "illegality". This paper takes a different approach by attending to the possibility of reciprocity—despite unequal power dynamics—involved in all labour relations, particularly when workplaces are small, relatively intimate, and involve daily interactions between workers and employers. Methodology is based on ethnographic observations in small retail shops and restaurants owned by ethnic Chinese migrants in Santiago, and interviews with Chinese employers and their employees of diverse ethno-cultural backgrounds and nationalities (e.g. Peru, Haiti, Colombia). Through the concept of "precarious labor relations", we examine the independent and shared uncertainties constituting labour relations between migrant employers and workers who are differently marginalized in a broader socio-political context. Analysing narratives of fear, trust, care, and indifference in how migrant employers and employees daily negotiate otherness and mutual forms of precarity at work, this paper further complicates dichotomies of exploitation and resistance in scholarship on migrant labour, by foregrounding relationality, trust, and the employer’s humanity in the equation.