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Asean Affairs  24 December 2010

Labor issues in Asean

By  David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs     24 December 2010

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A recent story, “24,000 Vietnamese workers strike at 2 South Korean plants,” points out several important aspects of labor issues in Asia and portends of more issues developing when the Asean Economic Community (AEC)starts in 2015 allowing for labor mobility within Asean.

The first issue is that more prosperous Asian countries that have the jobs often do not have enough labor to fill the positions and that situation may worsen with declining birth rates in these Asian countries. South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Singapore, among others, all need workers to fill the jobs to keep their economies progressing.

This need then places a large number of foreign countries that do not share their religious or cultural values. This was the case in the above story when the South Korean management operating the plants failed to recognize the importance of the Tet lunar New Year holidays to the Vietnamese, one of the reasons for the strike.

The religions of the 10-member Asean group are many: Muslim, Buddhist, Christian. Each of the countries has, of course, its own national holidays and traditions that differ from the country on the other side of the border.

The greater mobility of labor is certainly an important benefit of the AEC but expect some degree of cultural friction and misunderstandings along the way.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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