COVID-19 in Southeast Asia: Implications for workers and unions

02 June 2021

The labour market effects in Southeast Asia of the COVID-19 pandemic have attracted considerable analysis from both scholars and practitioners. However, much less attention has been paid to the pandemic’s impact on legal protections for workers’ and unions’ rights, or to what might account for divergent outcomes in this respect in economies that share many characteristics, including a strong export orientation in labour-intensive industries and weak industrial relations institutions. Having described the public health measures taken to control the spread of COVID-19 in Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam, this article analyses governments’ employment-related responses and their impact on workers and unions in the first year of the pandemic. Based on this analysis, we conclude that the disruption caused to these countries’ economies, and societies, served to reproduce existing patterns of state–labour relations rather than overturning them.