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Bruce E. Kaufman and Young-Myon Lee

This chapter explains the history, performance, and assessment of works councils in Korea. Works councils were mandated by law in 1963 as an instrument of the government to evade militant unions. Currently, all private-sector business organizations with at least 30 workers must operate a works council. The consequences of works councils in Korea is yet undetermined. Labor unions in Korea have consistently criticized works councils as being puppets of employers. But survey-based analysis demonstrates that works councils play a pseudo wage bargaining role similar to the role played by unions in collective bargaining, despite not having the legal right to do so. Researchers have shown that works councils are a complement, not substitute for labor unions. Considering the decades-old downward trend in union density and a negative shift in workers’ attitudes towards collective representation, works councils may work to represent workers’ interests in the increasing number of non-union workplaces in Korea.

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Hyuk Kwon

This chapter details the legal framework, precedents and judicial direction of worker rights and enforcement in Korea. Korean labor and union law was established in 1953, and the labor law system covers three distinct areas: the contractual relationship between individual workers and employers; the process and rights for organizing and dissolving labor unions and their operating principles; and the legal system related to the operation of labor-management councils within the workplace. Despite a strong legal framework in many dimensions such as dismissal protections, worker rights are eroded through restrictions on industrial action, cultural practice, lack of enforcement, and the inconsistency and capriciousness of judicial rulings.

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Heiwon Kwon and Virginia L. Doellgast

This chapter assesses the degree of gender inequality in Korea based on available statistics concerning gender employment and wage gaps. Gender inequality has persisted and has become durable over the last decade. Although women’s economic activity and labor force participation have increased, the gender gap remains strikingly wide in terms of both the employment rate and wages. This is due to three factors. First, Korea’s long-working-hours culture and breadwinner ideology unduly burden women with caregiving, an unsustainable role for the employed. Second, women are concentrated in low-wage, insecure, contingent employment with low protection and no representation as a result of labor flexibilization policies from the 1990s. Finally, the feminization of part-time low-quality work will continue to hinder women’s full integration into the labor market. We conclude with a discussion of the implication of our findings for policies that seek to better integrate work and family lives.

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Young-Myon Lee and Bruce E. Kaufman

In order to contextualize Korean employment and industrial relations (EIR) in the field of EIR thought, a field largely dominated by Western ideas and experience, this chapter breaks down Korean EIR into its component parts using two particular frameworks: a union/labor management model and an employment relationship model. This structured approach brings to the fore often overlooked facts regarding Korean institutions, collective actors, socio-economic and political forces that have shaped its employment relations and industrial environment – namely, the preponderance of small to medium-sized enterprises, the highly politicized evolution of unions and employer associations and their connection to the besieged and suffering ‘haan’ mentality, the movement away from Confucian-system paternal relations and the preference for strong, centralized leadership. The chapter highlights key events that have driven a narrow labor/management bias in Korean EIR, especially the Great Labor Offensive, and examines the whole through Kaufman’s employment relations model.

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Kyoung Won Park

This chapter briefly describes the evolution of strike activities as an archetype of union militancy from 1980 to 2016. Strike criteria are not uniform across countries, leading to misleading country-by-country comparisons. Overall, strikes have declined steeply in number since their peak in the 1980s, averaging around 100 per year since 2007. Analyzing the number of strikes by establishment size suggests that unions organized at larger establishments can go on strike to win higher wages, while unions at small or medium-sized establishments cannot achieve the same result under such adverse circumstances. Recent statistics on cases of mediation, adjudication and administrative litigation attest that fewer strikes do not mean a decline in industrial conflicts in the workplace. In terms of wages, data suggests that Korean labor unions’ bargaining power to extract economic rents from employers has declined and their ability to threaten or actualize the use of strikes has become ineffective.

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Hong-Geun Chang

Social dialogue in Korea has been shaped by its structural weaknesses for the past two decades, namely within a government-led ‘mobilized social dialogue’ model around the Tripartite Commission. The context is unfavorable to social dialogue and compromise: low union density and employer association organization rate, and loose integration between labor and management organizations. Partisan politics are strong, potentially weakening public sympathy. Moreover, enterprise-level bargaining and industrial relations are the norm, with supra-enterprise-level negotiations the closest thing to absent national-level negotiations. Despite notable exceptions, the social dialogue system itself has a high level of institutionalization, is state-led, and in many ways unrepresentative. In particular, the heavy-handedness of the government in social dialogue is an obstacle to sustainable progress. A great leap to an autonomous social dialogue model based on equal partnership will allow Korea to face the huge transformations ahead in its political, economic and social development.

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Haejin Kim and Paula B. Voos

This chapter focuses on the characteristics of contingent employment in Korea in relation to the labor market structure and the trade union movement. The explosion of contingent work followed the widespread restructuring after the Asian Financial Crisis. Contingent workers in Korea are more likely to be found among women, the less educated, those who are either aged 15–29 or those 50 and above. They typically earn low wages and are not covered by major social insurance programs. Industry, occupation and firm size are associated with contingent work, and contingent work ‘traps’ workers in a secondary labor market with little prospect of mobility. Legislation to protect contingent workers has become contentious and open to dispute, a familiar story in the global context. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how the huge gap between contingent and regular employees might be reduced.

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Myung Joon Park

This chapter analyzes and differentiates between various developments put forward by the Korean labor movement to address Korea’s labor market segmentation and limited growth in labor interest representation. Korean labor’s responses are evaluated against four types of interest representation, described using eight case studies. Systematic analysis of these types’ strengths and weaknesses leads to several conclusions. First, labor heterogeneity leads to deterioration of social unity among workers. Second, as this diversification of labor interests becomes more deeply entrenched, restructuring of the entire employment system becomes urgent. The most pressing objective for the leading actors of the labor movement is to reform the structural framework of industrial relations, while taking developmental aspects of new labor movement practices into consideration.

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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.

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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.