Labor rights in East Asia: Progress or regress?

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This article examines the impact of recent economic and political change on collective and individual labor rights in East Asia. Deploying a new index for measuring de jure and de facto labor rights, the article presents new comparative data on labor rights in the region. Democratization has produced stronger collective labor rights in much of the region, but labor laws in most countries still fall far short of international labor standards. East Asia's labor laws offer similar levels of protection for individual labor rights to the rest of the world when firing costs are taken into account, and low regional averages are primarily an effect of Singapore's extremely weak individual labor rights. Few countries have revised their labor laws in the direction of greater labor market flexibility. However, the distance between law and practice is wide, so improvements in laws are not necessarily reflected on the ground. Flexibility enters through the back door of ineffective labor law enforcement, which in turn has affected the organizing efforts of unions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-186
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of East Asian Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Collective bargaining
  • East asia
  • Freedom of association
  • Labor law
  • Labor market flexibility
  • Labor rights
  • Right to strike
  • Southeast asia
  • Trade unions


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