Precarious Asia
Global Capitalism and Work in Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia
Arne L. Kalleberg, Kevin Hewison and Kwang-Yeong Shin


Contents and Abstracts
1 Precarious Work in Comparative Perspective
chapter abstract

The chapter presents our conceptualization of precarious work, which includes nonregular work, informal economy work, and self-employment. Precarious work results from the interplay between the dynamics of global and regional capitalism and the relations between the state, business, and labor in Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. Who works in precarious jobs is also important, highlighting the importance of gender and social reproduction. The chapter outlines how the rise of precarious work contributes to an understanding of inequality and poverty.

2 Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia
chapter abstract

Chapter 2 offers an overview of the three countries included in this study: Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. The patterns of economic development, political dynamics, and relationships with the global division of labor are summarized for the three countries up to the early 1990s. The three countries industrialized at different times, and such differences meant variation in terms of national state capacities to shape their domestic institutions and influence global forces. Recent information on the population and other characteristics of these countries is also presented. An important demographic difference is the age profile: Japan's population is aging rapidly and Indonesia has the youngest population. In all three countries the labor force participation rates for women hover around 50%. Finally, patterns of industrial transformation are discussed and show that all three countries are heavily dominated by service industries, although a substantial portion of Indonesian workers still work in agriculture.

3 Global Capitalism, Domestic Policies, and Precarious Work
chapter abstract

Chapter 3 discusses the ways in which global and domestic factors have intersected to produce the growth of precarious work and inequality in these three countries. The discussion identifies how exogenous factors—neoliberalization and the dynamics of global capitalism, and the processes of hyperglobalization, production, and investment—and endogenous factors associated with the historical relationships between labor, capital, and the state operate to shape economic systems, industrialization, labor markets, and regulatory environments. These global and domestic forces shape the nature and consequences of precarious work in the three countries.

4 Dualisms of Precarious Work: Nonstandard Work, the Informal Economy, and Self-Employment
chapter abstract

Chapter 4 documents the growth in nonregular work arrangements in Japan and South Korea and the salience of the informal economy in Indonesia. These trends are discussed in terms of dualisms: nonregular versus regular work especially in Japan and South Korea, and informal versus formal work in Indonesia. For Japan a key trend is the expansion of nonregular work, especially for males. Nonregular work has also become more common in South Korea, and the large self-employed sector is especially important. Japan and South Korea are also compared with respect to the differing opportunities that men and women who work in nonregular jobs have of moving to regular jobs. For Indonesia the informal economy is most salient to precarious work and life chances, though nonregular work remains important even in the formal economy.

5 Precarious Work, Wages, and Social Protections
chapter abstract

Workers in precarious jobs are more likely to be poor. Inequality between regular and nonregular workers and for informal workers remains high even when the social wage, including benefits and social protections, is considered. The relationship between nonregular work arrangements and labor market outcomes such as wages, inequalities, and poverty is examined. Data on poverty in each country are presented, showing how the poverty rate differs by work arrangement. Emphasis is placed on the macrostructural factors that shape labor market institutions (especially unions and collective bargaining, and minimum wage laws) and social protections (health insurance, retirement and pension benefits, unemployment insurance benefits, and labor laws).

6 Precarious Work: Politics and Policies
chapter abstract

Chapter 6 discusses labor politics in Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia. The emphasis is on responses by labor, civil society, and governments to precarious work, inequality, and poverty. In Japan the political dominance of the Liberal Democratic Party and a union focus on regular workers has made it difficult for unions to press for labor laws and social protections that better support nonregular workers. Civil society activism regarding workers has been limited. Greater competition among political parties in South Korea has enabled unions and civil society organizations to ally themselves with unions and some political parties to push for labor reforms. In Indonesia organized labor, sometimes working with civil society organizations, made some important gains through democratization after 1998. Labor also pushed for the expansion of welfare but has been weakened in recent years and has become ineffectual in pressuring governments.

chapter abstract

This chapter summarizes our conclusions about precarious work in Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia and indicates their implications for current and emergent issues, such as automation and the platform economy. It also considers possible changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The need for comprehensive social protections to help people cope with the risks presented by the rise of precarious work is underscored. Although there is agreement on the outcomes that are needed, there is less consensus on how to achieve them, prompting important policy debates. There needs to be class-based redistribution of income and wealth to reduce inequality between nonregular and regular workers. Such a change would require a broad redistribution of political power.