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Kwang-Pyo Roh and Chris Brewster

This chapter examines the historical precedents of Korean employment and labor relations in detail, beginning with pre-industrial origins and Japanese occupation through the compressed-development modern era with its two defining events, the Great Labor Offensive and the Asian Financial Crisis. The authors sum up Korea’s labor movement history as ‘late flowering, early decline’, and identify three defining characteristics of employment and labor-management relations in Korea: a confrontational and conflict-ridden nature, strong enterprise-orientation, and the lack of legal approbation. Each of these characteristics are traced to their historical roots in occupation, under authoritarianism, and from Korean culture, leading to a discussion of their contribution to new problems such as ongoing hostility between social partners, labor market polarization and uncertain legal protections.