Trade Unions & Labor Movements in the Asia Pacific Region.

AuthorSodhi, J.S.

Trade Unions & Labor Movements in the Asia Pacific Region edited by Byoung-hoon Lee, Sek-hong Ng & Russel D Lansbury, Routledge, London, New York, 2020, 320 P.

Trade unions have been in the midst of a constant struggle to remain a potent force representing the rights and interests of workers. The tripartite nature of industrial relations has been crumbling. The State has not, with few exceptions, co-opted unions in the changing policy framework which led to a larger role for the private sector. This has considerably altered the labor market and employment relations. The states have also been ambivalent between protecting the rights of the workers and/or giving a free reign to the employers. Employers have always believed in the 'burden theory' that excessive legislation will load them with increased costs impacting their competitiveness. Even at the best of times, there had been only miniscule employers who welcomed trade unions. Others either hate or just tolerate them despite the fact that they contribute to a just society and gains for the management and the nation.

Unions, by and large, too have been slow to rise to the emerging environment and derive lessons from countries like Japan, Sweden and Israel where they rose to the challenge of meeting the changing requirements of the society during the 1990's. They have now moved away from opposing the new policy framework to seeking protection and rights of workers. It may, however, not be prudent to paint unions and the State with the same brush. For example, Europe and Asia present different patterns of responses. There are diversities within Asia too in view of their culture, historical perspective of development and emergence of the labor movement across countries.

There is, therefore, a continuous need to understand the challenges and the pattern of trade union's responses across different countries and endeavor to attempt a common theoretical framework for the stakeholders. The book is an endeavor in this direction by noted academics in the subject. It covers 13 countries of the Asia Pacific Region comprising South East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore), East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea) and South Asia (India and Australia). The countries form a heterogeneous group. China and India are two giant developing economies whereas Australia, Japan and Singapore are the most developed ones. Vietnam is a state led economy, Hong Kong and Taiwan are both a shadow of China but are trying to follow a different path of state led market economy. South Korea is following a trajectory similar to Japan. Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia are following a similar economic trajectory of Newly Industrialized Economies

The study developed a common research framework with the following questions.

* What has been the recent evolution of labor movement in each country?

* What are the core challenges confronting the labor movement both within and outside labor organizations?

* What strategic actions are being taken by the labor movement in response to the challenges in each country?

* What has the labor movement achieved or failed to achieve and what are the major factors influencing these outcomes?

* What theoretical implications can be drawn from case studies of labor movements in each country in order to further develop the varieties of unionism (VOU) perspective?

One of the salient features of the book is its exploration of theoretical model of Asian unionism in the context of the varieties of capitalism (VOC) framework as well as the liberal market economies (LME) and the coordinated market economies (CME) approaches. VOC framework addresses the relationship between different institutions in advanced capitalist economies. While LME's allows economic agents to work competitively through market mechanism and has their emphasis on short term profits, the CME's is opposed to market competitiveness across businesses, trade associations and investors and allows firms to embark on a more influential strategy with the long-term perspective of profit making. Moreover, countries following the CME's industrial relations system tends to be based on bargaining and longterm commitment to employees.

The introductory chapter highlights that despite diversity amongst the 13 countries in terms of their development and role of the State in the operation of markets, unions in all the countries continue to suffer from same set of issues with varying degrees because of globalization, increasing role of the private sector, in particular the MNCs. Unions also continue to be disadvantaged from 'institutional scleroses' as their bureaucratized operations have not dealt with the radically changing environment. Further the editors highlight the issues facing unions and salient points emerging from the subject. The second chapter presents an insightful perspective of Asian unionism as a regional pattern.

The country chapters, without an exception are, very well researched and exhaustive. Australian chapter brings in the historical perspective and the state of the unions today. While registered unions restructured themselves by merging from 292 to 59 between 1989 and 1994, the union membership has declined from the peak of 60% to 15%. This is attributed to structural changes in the economy and the legal framework developed by the erstwhile conservative government. The new collective bargaining framework under the Fair Works Act, 2009 failed to make it effective. Employers continue to push for further controls on unions and more individual flexibilities. Unions in Australia have also pursued the six key strategies of organizing, changes in structure, coalition building, social partnerships, political membership and international networking. Despite this, union power has not enhanced. The authors note that unions appear to have retained...

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