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Young-Ki Choi

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Dong-Bae Kim and Fang Lee Cooke

This chapter looks at the introduction and practice of HRM deployed in Korean companies since the Asian Financial Crisis and the relationship between HRM and labor unions. The limited evidence from recent surveys and studies suggests that new HRM practices employed since the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis may have contributed to the gradual decline in union density, from a high of 18.6 per cent in 1989 to 10.2 per cent in 2015. Analysis did not find systematic evidence that HRM has directly affected labor unions, except where there was a change in union status from union to non-union. These results echo other researchers’ conclusion that the effect of labor union substitution with HRM practice is a primarily US phenomenon. A review of the extant empirical studies shows that labor unions play different roles in the adoption of specific HRM/management practices, with various impacts on workers and gendered implications.

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Edited by Young-Myon Lee and Bruce E. Kaufman

The Evolution of Korean Industrial and Employment Relations explores current employment and workplace relations practice in South Korea, tracing their origins to key historical events and giving cultural, politico-economic and global context to the inevitable cultural adaptation in one of Asia’s ‘miraculous’ democracies.
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Yongjin Nho and Hyung-Tag Kim

This chapter explores the militant unionism of Korean labor, tracing its form to a history of resistance to authoritarianism. While militant labor unionism has had some successes, including gains in and protection of wages, it appears burdened with unintended consequences in the enterprise-centered landscape of Korea: inter-union rivalry and increasing wage differentials by firm size and employment status, as well as negative employment outcomes. While unions have attempted to reorganize along industrial lines, they have to date been effectively muted despite distorted statistics suggesting the contrary. The two competing national unions – the ‘old unionism’ enterprise-based FKTU, and the industrializing KCTU, further complicate the picture, with branch affiliate negotiations effectively draining industry level vigor. Case discussion of the Korean Financial Industry (FKTU affiliate) and Korean Metal Workers Union (KCTU affiliate) helps to shed light on the reality of multi-employer bargaining practices.

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Dong-One Kim

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Kwang-Pyo Roh and Chris Brewster

This chapter examines the historical precedents of Korean employment and labor relations in detail, beginning with pre-industrial origins and Japanese occupation through the compressed-development modern era with its two defining events, the Great Labor Offensive and the Asian Financial Crisis. The authors sum up Korea’s labor movement history as ‘late flowering, early decline’, and identify three defining characteristics of employment and labor-management relations in Korea: a confrontational and conflict-ridden nature, strong enterprise-orientation, and the lack of legal approbation. Each of these characteristics are traced to their historical roots in occupation, under authoritarianism, and from Korean culture, leading to a discussion of their contribution to new problems such as ongoing hostility between social partners, labor market polarization and uncertain legal protections.

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Sang-Min Lee and Morley Gunderson

This chapter examines Korea’s approach to human resource development (HRD) in the 50 years since universal primary education was established in 1960. Korea invests heavily in education, both publicly and privately, and this focus means it has experienced few skills shortages during peak periods of development. Korea also invests heavily in research and development as a proportion of GNP. Korea acquires technology primarily through informal rather than formal channels, allowing Korean firms to retain some independence from multinational firms but limiting access to FDI and insulating Korean firms from international practice standards. In anticipation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution Korea will need to adopt lifelong learning practices and effect the government’s efforts to devolve employment and human resource development to the local level.

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Young-Myon Lee and Bruce E. Kaufman

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In Jun, Peter Sheldon and Kang-Sung Lee

This chapter explains how and why chaebols founded Korea’s first national employer association, the Korea Employers Federation (KEF) in 1970, despite facing little threat from unions or pro-employee government intervention. It then explores the KEF’s changing roles in responding to chaebols’ expectations up to 2010. As chaebols grew and moved into new industries, their main industrial relations interests were maintaining low labour costs and unimpeded workplace control. In this, they had government support until Korea’s democratization in 1987. Needing little collective leadership, they instead sought increasing technical expertise from KEF staff. With democratization, chaebols received much less government support. Industrial relations now included independent unionism and militancy, rising wages, and legislative support for collective bargaining and individual employee rights. Chaebols now wanted KEF representation, which became significant for lobbying governments, negotiating with peak unions and within the Tripartite Commission. Nonetheless, its lack of authority over chaebols limited its strategies.

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Seung-Hyeob Lee and David Lewin

This chapter analyzes the diverse institutional arrangements of public sector employment relations in Korea – in particular, unionization, bargaining structure, and key issues. Korean labor has little voice despite the government changing hands multiple times. A look at the status of the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) and the Korean Government Employees’ Union (KGEU) demonstrate the difficulties public sector unions face in claiming their share of voice within a two-tier bargaining system. Public sector workers, employees and unions have largely been silenced by the unilateral institutionalization of restrictive laws and practices like the registration approval system and prohibitions on collective action for teachers and civil servants. The author argues that to take their place at the table, public sector organizations must learn how to acknowledge economic realities and court public opinion in their strategies and tactics.