Employment Relations in the Asia Pacific, edited by
South Korea and Taiwan Achieving high levels of employment early along their paths to industrialisation led newly industrialised economies (NIEs) to take an interest in HRM as a means of obtaining workforce commitment to increasing productivity. In Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan, moves towards democratisation since the late 1980s and a growing dependence on foreign labour alerted public policymakers and corporate managers to the importance of HRM policies and practices.
The state has played an important role in South Korea, but so too have the large family conglomerates, the chaebol. Spurred by the government, the chaebol initiated the industrialisation of South Korea and have played a dominant role in the country's economic development ever since. There remains a struggle between the state, the chaebol and the unions over the control of employment relations. In 1996 the Kim Young-Sam government amended the Trade Union Act and strengthened employers' workplace prerogatives. This precipitated much worker and union discontent including many strikes.
Indonesia and the People's Republic of China In terms of their large size and stage of economic development, Indonesia and the PRC are awakening giants. Both countries have had strong authoritarian governments and relatively low-cost labour. But in recent years, Indonesia has experienced more political instability and it suffered much more from the Asian financial crisis.
Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. After the Asian financial crisis it asked the International Labour Organisation to help it to reform its labour market policies and employment relations laws. In an effort to reduce unemployment and increase foreign remittances, Indonesia's Ministry of Manpower is pursuing a strategy of placing its labour force in the global market. Compulsory three-day courses for would-be overseas workers aim to help them understand their rights and avoid exploitation, and a private sector insurance scheme provides some further protection. There remains the problem of illegal and unscrupulous recruitment agents at home and advocacy groups like the Women's Solidarity for Human Rights have pressed for tighter regulations.
In the PRC, central planning originally determined the national labour market policies, but
recently these policies have been driven increasingly by product-market considerations too. Employment relations reform has not been straightforward. There appears to be considerable latent labour unrest in China. About half of all reported labour disputes arise from workers being transferred from lifetime to contract employment; moreover, rural migration has created high urban unemployment. Thus, the PRC provides some of the cheapest labour in the world to the factories being developed by expatriate Chinese entrepreneurs in the Special Economic Zones. Structural reforms have been accompanied by large-scale redundancies - estimates range above 20 million people - and workers still employed are often not paid.
Conclusions Although government intervention is no longer public policy in the main
English-speaking countries and union memberships have been in decline -- in the USA, Australia
and the UK, for example - this has not been the case in some Asia-Pacific countries -- notably
Taiwan and South Korea. Further, some Asian governments are still interventionist in their
labour markets, playing an important role in determining the legal framework of employment
relations as well as in defining the role of unions. But there are significant differences
between countries. For example, the survival and militancy of oppositional union leaders in
South Korea has not been matched in Malaysia, and the gains of Taiwan's trade unionists have
no parallel in Singapore. And, while the enterprise union structure in Korea is a cause of
tension in that country's employment relations, it has been a contributor to industrial harmony
in Japan. Those with operations in these countries would be well advised to keep an eye on su
Greg J. Bamber, formerly with Durham University Business School (UK), is Director, Graduate School of Management, Griffith University, Queensland, Australia.
Employment Relations in the Asia Pacific, edited by Greg Bamber,