[Excerpt] Although employment relations (defined as labour relations and human resources management (HRM)) institutions and practices generally tend to be stable over long periods of time, that cannot be said to be the case in the three largest economies of East Asia, i.e. China, Japan and South Korea (hereafter Korea), during the last two decades (see chapters 5, 7 and 8). In this contribution, we briefly review the most significant development in East Asian employment relations, i.e. the growth of a variety of non-standard employment arrangements which we subsume under the term ‘informality’ in all three countries. We see this growth as symptomatic of the ‘extemalisation’ of employment relations beyond the enterprise, a development that imposes major challenges for traditional trade unionism and for employment policy. We argue that the efforts of governments aimed at ‘reregulating’ employment relations to curb such ‘informalisation’ are evidence of an emerging ‘labour protection logic’ in these countries, although we remain sceptical about the effectiveness of attempts at re-regulation.
Our use of the term informal is broad and inclusive. We conceive of informal work as work that is not permanent, not always regulated by an employment contract, not always regulated by current law and not always with benefits. Thus, temporary and part-time workers (many of whom receive partial benefits) are included within the scope of our definition. The use of directly engaged contract workers is also covered by our definition. Also included is ‘agency work’ or ‘despatched labour’, the triangular employment relationship where workers are employed nominally by a labour market intermediary agency, but work at a third location that pays the agency a fee for using the worker. The primary employer in this case remains the agency, but the liability of the employer at the place of work is, in many countries, unclear.