Kalym (Russia)

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Kalym
Location: Russia
Russia map.png
Author: Jeremy Morris
Affiliation: University of Aarhus


Original text by Jeremy Morris


‘Kalym’ exists as an informal word for a panoply of informal and undeclared work practices that approximate the term ‘moonlighting’ in English. While often the term denotes work related to one’s formal job and skills, kalym has a wider meaning than moonlighting because it can refer to any opportunity for short-term work in the informal economy. As such, the term reflects the widespread nature of opportunistic and tactical engagements with undeclared work in Russia that exists for many, particularly in manual or blue-collar work (Morris 2011[1], 2013[2]). Its wide currency as a word also highlights the ubiquitous nature of informal work and employment.


In the Global North ‘moonlighting’, as its name suggests, is more often associated with informal contracted work or informal illicit employment (Schneider 2009 [3]), and therefore sometimes has less of an opportunistic ring to it and more of an association with one’s profession and skills-set. In addition ‘moonlighting’ has less of a working-class or manual labour marker to it, being used in relation to both trades, blue-collar work and highly qualified professions such as medicine or teaching (Li, et al. 2000[4]; Sliter and Boyd 2014 [5]), household service work ([6]), and not always referring to undeclared work, but to legal portfolio work or multiple jobholding. In various tax enforcement jurisdictions moonlighting is synonymous with, or translated as ‘undeclared work’ as an illegal part of an existing formal employment. Thus, the term moonlighting is more often translated simply as ‘black work’, for example in German, ‘Schwarzarbeit’, or in Danish: ‘Sort arbejde’ (undeclared work). Nonetheless, analogous usages occur to the term ‘kalym’ – in German: ‘pfusch’ – which indicates undeclared ‘moonlighting’ work using employer resources during paid working hours. The literal meaning of ‘pfusch’ is ‘botch’, rather like the term ‘khaltura’ in Russian, also sometimes used as a synonym for ‘kalym’, but also indicating rushed, poor quality work.

Forklift driver holds up money as if to say: 'is this all I'm worth' I can get a lot more moonlighting.


In Russia and other post-socialist societies, kalym is often used also to mean additional, supplementary income from working informally in a way related somehow to one’s primary employment. However it has the additional nuance of unforeseen opportunity. Blue-collar workers use kalym in particular to refer to any moonlighting job using skills, connections or even materials related to formal work. For example, using a formal-job works-truck to informally deliver building materials (off or on the clock!) is kalym. The worker may get more money per hour from this kalym than from formal work. He may even have an informal ‘employment’ (i.e. unregistered and undocumented as a legal entity) on the basis of his access to a truck in his formal job. This case of kalym stresses the semi-perpetuating informal work environment dominated by a social network of current and former work-mates ([7]). The extent of a horizontal social network is important for exploiting kalym opportunities at the same time as skills and resources (access to a truck) that enable vertical social networking (soliciting work from potential clients). In this case kalym comes to resemble informal versions of trades well known for their formal self-employment basis in the rest of the Global North: plumbers, carpenters, car repair, etc. The difference here is that perhaps the majority of trades work in Russia is in the shadow economy and may well be accompanied by a less well-paid formal job, in a factory, for example. By contrast, kalym is used by Russian white-collar workers in a similar sense to ‘moonlighting’ in the West. In addition, semi- or unskilled workers are more likely to use the term for any opportunities for extra earning – typically in construction work, or manual handling odd-jobs for cash without any necessary long-term perspectives.


As can be seen by the above examples, kalym practices, at any level, are illustrative of the ‘portfolio’ nature of incomes (cf. Rose 2000[8]), and the relative reduction in importance of single breadwinning wages. And in a sense this echoes the particular dualist structure of Soviet-era and contemporary Russian formal wages with their small base and large, discretionary, bonuses. Thus any worker actively seeks the potentially more lucrative moonlighting opportunities, connected or disconnected from their formal employment. There are few "kalym" niches for the rural, poorest and least skilled. For those at the bottom of society, moonlighting opportunities are more to do with mutuality and barter arrangements with cash less likely to figure than alcohol as currency ([9]).


Some see moonlighting as a necessary insurance policy, whether because formal incomes are too low, protecting against shocks to income in formal work (due to the threat of furlough, holding back of bonus elements), or an alternative to precautionary savings in an uncertain inflationary environment ([10]). In any of these cases, it turns out that moonlighting emphasises the long-term rational economic calculation of individuals and households – ironically the complete opposite of the opportunistic ‘ducking and diving’ it is associated with. Indeed, in some low-pay blue-collar contexts, formal employers acknowledge the need for employees to engage in moonlighting, with unwritten rules about the amount of time off workers can take to use for kalym ([11]).


Fundamentally, like other forms of undeclared work, kalym highlights the fundamental tension between interpretations of the ‘right’ to work and receive income in addition to taxed earnings, and the right of the state to know and tax forms of work. But in addition, the Russian context of kalym is the cementing and extension of social network ties, the opportunity to build skills set out from existing work competencies, and not least a sense that one’s labour is valued over and above the often low-paying formal jobs.

Notes

  1. Morris, J. 2011. ‘Socially Embedded Workers at the Nexus of Diverse Work in Russia: An Ethnography of Blue-Collar Informalization,’ International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 31(11-12): 619-631.
  2. Morris, J. 2013. ‘Moonlighting strangers met on the way: the nexus of informality and Blue-collar sociality in Russia’, in Morris, J., and Polese, A., (eds.), The Informal Post-socialist Economy: Embedded Practices and Livelihoods, Abingdon and New York, Routledge, 51-66.
  3. Schneider, F. 2009. ‘Size and Development of the Shadow Economy in Germany, Austria and Other oecd-Countries’, Revue économique, 5 (60): 1079–1116.
  4. Li, J., Taylor, R., Martinez, M. 2000. ‘Survey of moonlighting practices and work requirements of emergency medicine residents’, American Journal of Emergency Medicine, 18(2): 147-151.
  5. Sliter, M. T. and Boyd, E. M. 2014. ‘Two (or three) is not equal to one: Multiple jobholding as a neglected topic in organizational research’, Journal of Organizational Behavior,35(7):1042- 1046.
  6. Sundbo, J., 1997. ‘The creation of service markets to solve political-sociological problems: The Danish Home Service’, The Service Industries Journal, 17(4): 580–602.
  7. Morris, J. 2013. ‘Moonlighting strangers met on the way: the nexus of informality and Blue-collar sociality in Russia’, in Morris, J., and Polese, A., (eds.), The Informal Post-socialist Economy: Embedded Practices and Livelihoods, Abingdon and New York, Routledge, 51-66.
  8. Rose, R. 2000. ‘Uses of Social Capital in Russia: Modern, Pre-modern, and Anti-modern’, Post-Soviet Affairs, 16(1): 33-57.
  9. Rogers, D. 2005. ‘Moonshine, Money, and the Politics of Liquidity in Rural Russia’, American Ethnologist 32(1): 63-81
  10. Guariglia, A., and Kim, B-Y. 2004.‘Earnings uncertainty, precautionary saving, and moonlighting in Russia’, Journal of Population Economics, 17(2): 289-310.
  11. Morris, J. 2011. ‘Socially Embedded Workers at the Nexus of Diverse Work in Russia: An Ethnography of Blue-Collar Informalization,’ International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 31(11-12): 619-631.