Dissertation Abstracts

Employment Institutions and Social Economic Risk-Shifting in Taiwan

Author: Wang, Chih-Chieh , ccwang0102@gmail.com
Department: Institute of Sociology
University: University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany
Supervisor: Karen Shire
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Nonstandard work , Institutionalism , Employment relations , Organizational theory
Areas of Research: Economy and Society , Organization , Work


This thesis draws on sociological theories of labor markets to examine how relative power among employers, workers and the state determines contour of the employment system in Taiwan (1895-2011), with a focus on how nonstandard employment arises and affects workers in the 2000s. Initial industrialization and land reform by Japan and the early rules of the Chinese Nationalist Party forced farming labor force to become wage labor and created the labor market in Taiwan. Democratization and the rise of liberal electoral system in the 1990s created tremendous pressures for the state to prove its ruling legitimacy. In order to secure local elections, the state gradually aligned itself with businesses against workers and made businesses as employers the dominant force in the Taiwanese labor market. I argue that employers’ business and employment practices are essential mechanisms that counter rising labor protection by the state in the 1990s and 2000s. As the number of labor regulations started to increase in the late 1980s, a rigid standard employment model, that excludes workers without full-time regular contracts (nonstandard) from many employment protections, was established. The standard employment model, together with poor labor law enforcement gives rise to a protection gap between standard and nonstandard workers. Taking advantage of the protection gap, employers adopt nonstandard employment and shift employment and social risks to individual workers.

The latest representative establishment survey about nonstandard work arrangements of firms was conducted in Taiwan in 2011 (N=2,632) in order to analyze determinants of adopting nonstandard workers and outsourcing and to explore how employers distribute rewards among standard and nonstandard workers. Logistic and tobit regression analyses show that firms’ adoption of nonstandard work is embedded in three levels of contexts - institutional, industrial and organizational, which further leads to exploitation of different types of nonstandard work. In contrast to the conventional wisdom, nonstandard employment is not primarily used for cost-saving (but outsourcing is) and that nonstandard work is considered to complement, rather than substitute, regular full-time workers. Moreover, firms as subcontractors resort to all forms of nonstandard work in order to cope with imbalanced power relations in the subcontracting system. How specific types of nonstandard work is related to trade unions and foreign investment is also discussed. Based on how employers distribute wages and benefits among standard and nonstandard workers, latent class analysis continues exploring heterogeneity in nonstandard work and its implications for social stratification.

My research sheds light on labor market and institutional studies by clarifying the role that firms play in shaping and changing employment institutions. Furthermore, effects of institutions do not come straight down to individual workers. Instead, they are mediated by firms at meso-level. Specific types of nonstandard work is used to address pressures from different levels of contexts and counterbalances rising employment regulations.