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Globalization, Flexibilization and Working Conditions in Asia and the Pacific, Edited by Sangheon Lee and François Eyraud, Geneva: ILO and Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2008, 452 pp., ISBN 978-1-8433-4330-1.[Record]

  • Olga Artemova

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  • Olga Artemova
    Université Laval

This book is a collective work of several researchers who are trying to fill gaps in the literature concerning recent changes in employment conditions in Asia and the Pacific. They stress the importance of the common but often forgotten wisdom that “people see the world through the optic of their workplace.” The objective is to go beyond the traditional macroeconomic analysis of globalization and its impact on the labour market based primarily on average indicators, and to find out what kind of changes have taken place in the working conditions of individual workers in the context of the recent trends towards labour market reform and economic globalization. The main employment conditions analyzed in this book are employment status (contract type), wage/incomes (average wages, wage inequality and wage-related underemployment or poverty, labour cost); and, working time (work organization and related issues like work and family balance, health and safety, etc.). There are eight national case studies and two crosscutting analyses. The selected countries represent the four waves of globalization that have occurred in Asia and the Pacific: Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, China and Vietnam. Two special chapters discussing the workers’ right to organize in this region and evaluating labour laws are also included. All the studies included in this volume were carried out in accordance with standard research guidelines that helped identify common trends and issues, as well as differences across the countries. However, the lack of reliable data and analysis did not allow the benefits of this approach to be maximized. Even though several new surveys were made (China, Philippines), more work is needed to improve labour statistics in this region to provide more thoughtful analysis and more-grounded policy debates. This book is organized into four parts. Three chapters of the first part address the debates on economic growth and social protection in Asia and the Pacific. In the first chapter, Lee and Eyraud review recent market developments in the region and introduce a range of issues that will be addressed in the following chapters. They speak about employment diversification, informal employment, wage inequality, minimum wages and deregulation. What they aim to show is that even if the labour markets of the region seem to have recovered from the financial crisis in 1997, this process created a group of vulnerable workers in the formal and informal economies. Accompanying labour market reforms did no more than exacerbate their precarious situation. Lee and Eyraud underline the regional dimension of such a change in working conditions and call for regional-level debates and policy dialogue. In the second chapter, Kucera analyses statistical evidence on the relationship between freedom of association and economic performance in the Asia region, finding a positive correlation between them, and addresses the question of whether or not Asian countries can be considered as “exceptions.” McCann in the third chapter develops the idea of the positive effect of labour regulation. McCann considers that labour rights extended to workers were enacted as part of a democratization process. That’s why labour standards should be evaluated as serving distributive goals and not from a purely economic view. She does not agree with the widespread view that labour rights must be eroded to attract capital. On the contrary, she shows that many Asian countries have enacted comprehensive labour legislation, and reforms have been undertaken to extend protection to growing numbers of “non-standard” workers. The main problem here is failure to respect existing legislation within workplaces. Part two is devoted to the investigation of developments in the three countries involved in the first wave of globalization: Australia (Campbell), Japan (Kubo) …