I am back now from the InterAsian 5 Conference at Seoul National University in Korea (http://www.ssrc.org/programs/child-component/interasia-program/interasian-connections-conference-series/interasian-connections-v-seoul-2016/). It was a successful and interesting event with more than a hundred scholars joining a series of workshops with pre-prepared and pre-circulated papers. This was mine:
Thailand’s Border Special Economic Zones and the Reconfiguration of Cross-Border Social, Labour and Commercial Relations
Border special economic zones have been announced as the next step of developing the Thai economy and making qualitative, structural changes to it. Yet it is not clear how such zones differ from the currently employed industrial estates, which have done sterling service in fueling rapid economic growth for several decades and continue to be important elements in the economy. This paper explains the issues behind this policy and the ways in which estate might hope to become a zone.
Keywords: border, industrial estate, middle income trap, special economic zone, Thailand
It is likely that in due course the collected papers from each of the workshops will appear as a journal special issue or book in due course.
A Qualitative Analysis of Current Unrest in the Ready Made Garment Sector concerning Labour Practices in Bangladesh
Ashraful Siddique and John Walsh
Also to be presented at the IFRD Conference.
The ready-made garments (RMG) industry has been one of the main export industry sectors for Bangladesh and an important source of foreign exchange for the last three decades. While China is becoming expensive in this sector in terms of labour costs, opportunities to grow in this sector is shifting towards emerging countries such as Bangladesh. The RMG industry is experiencing hostility between employers and employees as witnessed by disputes and violent protest by some workers. This study explores the low wage rates among the low-skilled workers involved, the high workloads and poor relations between employees and employers which are endangering the potential growth of this industrial sector and may even bring about its destruction. Using personal interviews combined with review of secondary data, this study finds that there is growing demand for balanced work-life quality among the workers of the RMG sector.
Key Words: Bangladesh, employer-employee relationship, job satisfaction, ready-made garments, work-life quality.
Ashraful Siddique is a PhD candidate at the School of Management, Shinawatra University, Thailand
Dr. John Walsh is Director, SIU Research Centre, School of Management, Shinawatra University, Thailland
My paper “Moving beyond Factory Asia in the Mekong Region” has been accepted for presentation at the 8th Asian Political and International Studies Association conference to be held on September 19th-20th this year (http://www.apisa8.org/).
Abstract: Much of the rapid economic development that has taken place in East Asia in recent decades has depended on the ‘factory Asia’ concept – that is, low labour cost competitiveness in manufacturing industries that aim at import-substitution and export-orientation. This model has been very successful in achieving aggregate increases in income generation but its limits are evident in the case of countries such as Thailand and Malaysia, which have been struggling to break free of the Middle Income Trap that is set by entering the factory model in the first place. Some countries have made the transition to high income status and Korea is often cited as an example of how this might be achieved. In the Mekong region, most countries lag far behind Thailand and are in the early stages of the factory model. Yet the steps that Thailand is taking to exit the Middle Income Trap are already having an impact on its neighbours through offshoring of some low labour cost industries, promoting connectivity and building infrastructure to support these offshored industries and link them more effectively with places of consumption both within and outside the region. These changes pose a number of challenges for the governments involved in a range of areas, not least of which is that of social policy. The provision of welfare programmes and transfers in the region is comparatively low and there are few provisions for labour rights and freedom of expression. This paper explores the current situation with respect to important aspects of social policy in the Mekong region and outlines what changes are likely to take place over the next decade (notably, the launching of the ASEAN Economic Community and the completion of the Asian Highway Network), together with the possible improvements to social policy that can be made and which will be required by those changes.
Keywords: factory Asia, Mekong region, middle income trap, social policy
Review of Ruth Pearson and Kyoko Kusakabe’s Thailand’s Hidden Workforce: Burmese Migrant Factory Workers published in the SIU Journal of Management, Vol.3, No.2 (December, 2013).
Read the full review here.
I have received an invitation to include my paper “The Rising Importance of Chinese Labour in the
Greater Mekong Sub-Region,” first published at Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus in one of the new course readers (http://japanfocus.org/course_readers), which I am very happy to accept. Here is how it begins:
Migration is, fundamentally, a response to the uneven distribution of resources around the world or the variability of the environment, however broadly defined.  People move from one place to another place to take advantage of a better climate, possible access to better quality agricultural land, better-paying or more numerous jobs, freedom from oppression or discrimination and so forth. The phenomenon has dimensions such as degree of permanency and degree of voluntarism. In reality, it comprises a large number of categories and sub-categories and, as in the case of many of those Chinese people considered in this paper, people can pass through several categories as the result of changes in their own status and in that of the broader political context.
(The rest is here: http://www.japanfocus.org/-John-Walsh/3088)
It has been observed that the history of the working class is encapsulated by the struggle for the length of the working day. After generations of struggle and suffering, the working day was reduced from fourteen hours a day to an average of eight (of course, this is only true in the developed countries – elsewhere, working days remain dreadfully and dangerously long) and people can expect two days off a week, by and large. These sacrifices have been bitter and genuine and are not to be given up lightly.
Read the full article here.
The fruits of economic growth have been hugely and dangerously skewed towards the owners of capital and away from labour in the last 30 years. Will this persist into the future and, if it does, what would it mean?
Read the full article here.