Comparative research agenda on labour market reforms consolidated at workshop in Seoul, August 2015.

Charles Woolfson and Arunas Juska have agreed the common theme of research co-operation with their Korean colleagues during their visit to Seoul in August 2015. Their focus will be on labour market reforms in two contrastive settings and forms the basis of a joint application to national funding bodies in Sweden and Korea under the broad title: ‘Post-Crisis’ Reconfigurations of Labour Relations in South Korea and Baltic Lithuania: Contesting the Global Formation of Precarious Work in Two Semi-peripheral ‘Newer’ Market Economies.

South Korea and Baltic Lithuania are both ‘semi-peripheral’ liberal market economies. Both are ‘newer’ market-oriented societies, which although geographically and culturally disparate, are at a common historical conjuncture, having emerged from economic crisis and now entered into a current ‘post-crisis’ phase, ‘beyond austerity’. Respective governments are attempting to restore economic competitiveness by reconfiguring labour relations through radical ‘reforms’ to protective labour legislation and the labour market. These reforms, if implemented, will produce an unprecedented intensification of the level of precariousness among the workforce, both in Korea and in Lithuania. Korea already has one of the most highly ‘casualised’ labour markets in the advanced industrial world, extreme levels of societal ‘polarisation’, measurable growing inequality between classes and the growing working poor. Likewise in Lithuania, current reforms to the labour code, if introduced, will fundamentally reshape the pattern of labour relations for the foreseeable future, redefining the relationship between labour and capital. The comparative project examines these wide-ranging labour market reforms, the generation of new oppositional ‘discourses of discontent’, and growing social unrest in both societies in an attempt to analyse common underlying global dynamics of contemporary labour precariousness in the new ‘post-crisis’ phase. 

Charles Woolfson and Kwang-Yeong Shin

The Korean partners are Professor Kwang-Yeong Shin and Professor Byoung-Hoon Lee of the Department of Sociology at Chung-Ang University, Seoul. Professor Arunas Juska is now full professor at the Department of Sociology, East Carolina University, and a long-established REMESO Affiliated Researcher. Juska and Woolfson have written a number of collaborative publications and journal articles over the last five years. Shin and Lee have published extensively in leading English-language peer reviewed journals and are acknowledged leading scholars of labour and contemporary social change in South Korea. Professors Shin and Juska will be guests at a REMESO seminar in late November 2015 where they will give a joint seminar on preliminary research results, to be followed by a field trip to Lithuania to conduct interviews, and to present a lecture to Vilnius University social science students by Professor Shin. Further updates on our progress in this exciting venture will follow.