Immigrant workers' experiences and perceptions of tensions, identity and social resources within the Port of Durban, South Africa.
It is argued that the tensions facing foreign workers in the South African labour market should be seen against the background of the recent history of migration in which it has been primarily workers with low educational and vocational qualifications that have arrived from neighbouring countries and who have been employed within the informal sector doing fairly dangerous and poorly paid work. Aim: In light of this, the purpose of this study was to explore immigrant worker’s experiences and perceptions of tension, identity and social resources within the Port of Durban, with an overall focus on the construction of a positive work identity. Methodology: The broad paradigm of this research study is located in the qualitative research field. The researcher specifically used an interpretative phenomenological approach (IPA) following the guidelines of Smith, Jarman and Osborne (1999). The IPA was used because the researcher was interested in identifying, describing and understanding the subjective experiences and cognitive interpretations of immigrant workers in respect of their subjective experiences and perceptions of tension; identity and social resources; and because the researcher intended to make sense of the participants’ worlds through a process of interpretative activity. Semi-structured interviews using a non-probability sampling technique were employed to purposively select 10 participants from within the container terminal division of the Port. The IPA as suggested by Smith et al. (1999) was then used to identify the connections and themes in respect of shared meanings and references and /or in respect of hierarchical relationships in each transcript. Themes that were found to be common were grouped together i.e. clustered by the researcher. The researcher then derived a master list of superordinate themes and sub-themes from the clusters of themes. Findings: The thematic analysis unearthed eight themes : (1) interpretation of what it means to be an immigrant; (2) causes of tension at work; (3) causes of tension outside of work; (4) mechanisms for managing tensions; (5) individuality versus belonging; (6) factors leading to a positive work life; (7) identifying social resources; and (8) overcoming tensions using social resources. The participants’ lived experiences of tension indicated that a number of barriers had impacted and were continuing to impact on their everyday work experience. Overall, tensions, such as disrespect, violence and inequality, made it difficult for immigrants to identify positively with their work and fellow South Africans. Notwithstanding the fact, participants additionally managed to identify key aspects and positive experiences, such as training and learning opportunities that served as potential social resources that workers could rely on in order to help them overcome some of the above mentioned tensions and attain a more positive immigrant work-related identity.
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