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Labor Regulations, Unions, and Social Protection in Developing Countries: Market distortions or Efficient Institutions?

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  • Richard B. Freeman

Abstract

This essay reviews what economists have learned about the impact of labor market institutions, defined broadly as government regulations and union activity on labor outcomes in developing countries. It finds that: 1) Labor institutions vary greatly among developing countries but less than they vary among advanced countries. Unions and collective bargaining are less important in developing than in advanced countries while government regulations are nominally as important. 2) Many developing countries compliance with minimum wage regulations produce spikes in wage distributions around the minimum in covered sectors. Most studies find modest adverse effects of the minimum on employment so that the minimum raises the total income of low paid labor. 3) In many countries minimum wages "spill-over" to the unregulated sector, producing spikes in the wage distributions there as well. 4) Employment protection regulations and related laws shift output and employment to informal sectors and reduce gross labor mobility. 5) Mandated benefits increase labor costs and reduce employment modestly while the costs of others are shifted largely to labor, with some variation among countries. 6) Contrary to the Harris-Todaro two sector model in which rural-urban migration adjust to produce a positive relation between unemployment and wages across regions and sectors, wages and unemployment are inversely related by the "wage curve". 7) Unions affect non-wage outcomes as well as wage outcomes. 8) Cross-country regressions yield inconclusive results on the impact of labor regulations on growth while studies of country adjustments to economic shocks, such as balance of payments problems, find no difference in the responses of countries by the strength of labor institutions. 9) Labor institution can be critical when countries experience great change, as in China's growth spurt and Argentina's preservation of social stability and democracy after its 2001-2002 economic collapse. Cooperative labor relations tend to produce better economic outcomes. 10) The informal sector increased its share of the work force in the developing world in the past two decades. The persistence of large informal sectors throughout the developing world, including countries with high rates of growth, puts a premium on increasing our knowledge of how informal sector labor markets work and finding institutions and policies to deliver social benefits to workers in that sector.

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  • Richard B. Freeman, 2009. "Labor Regulations, Unions, and Social Protection in Developing Countries: Market distortions or Efficient Institutions?," NBER Working Papers 14789, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14789
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    3. Susan Hayter & Bradley Weinberg, 2011. "Mind the Gap: Collective Bargaining and Wage Inequality," Chapters, in: Susan Hayter (ed.), The Role of Collective Bargaining in the Global Economy, chapter 6, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Kaldewei, Cornelia & Weller, Jürgen, 2013. "Empleo, crecimiento sostenible e igualdad," Macroeconomía del Desarrollo 145, Naciones Unidas Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe (CEPAL).
    5. Reshad N. Ahsan & Arghya Ghosh & Devashish Mitra, 2017. "International trade and unionization: Evidence from India," Canadian Journal of Economics/Revue canadienne d'économique, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 50(2), pages 398-425, May.
    6. Gindling,T. H. & Mossaad,Nadwa & Newhouse,David Locke, 2016. "Earnings premiums and penalties for self-employment and informal employees around the world," Policy Research Working Paper Series 7530, The World Bank.
    7. Chen, Liming & Felipe, Jesus & Kam, Andrew J.Y. & Mehta, Aashish, 2021. "Is employment globalizing?," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 56(C), pages 74-92.
    8. Pieters, Janneke, 2013. "Youth Employment in Developing Countries," IZA Research Reports 58, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    9. Keifman, Saúl & Maurizio, Roxana, 2012. "Changes in Labour Market Conditions and Policies: Their Impact on Wage Inequality During the Last Decade," WIDER Working Paper Series 014, World Institute for Development Economic Research (UNU-WIDER).
    10. Gamberoni, Elisa. & Uexküll, Erik von. & Weber, Sebastian., 2010. "The role of openness and labour market institutions for employment dynamics during economic crises," ILO Working Papers 994618973402676, International Labour Organization.
    11. Hadi Esfahani & Roksana Bahramitash & Bin Lin, 2016. "Gender and Labour Allocation: the Role of Institutions and Policies in the Allocation of Female and Male Labor," Working Papers 998, Economic Research Forum, revised May 2016.
    12. Dodlova, Marina & Giolbas, Anna & Lay, Jann, 2016. "Non-Contributory Social Transfer Programmes in Developing Countries: A New Data Set and Research Agenda," GIGA Working Papers 290, GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies.
    13. Magruder, Jeremy R., 2013. "Can minimum wages cause a big push? Evidence from Indonesia," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 100(1), pages 48-62.
    14. Mcleod,Catriona & Wietzke,Frank-Borge, 2013. "Jobs, wellbeing, and social cohesion : evidence from value and perception surveys," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6447, The World Bank.
    15. repec:unu:wpaper:wp2012-14 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Bakis, Ozan & Polat, Sezgin, 2013. "Wage Inequality in Turkey: 2002-2010," GIAM Working Papers 13-9, Galatasaray University Economic Research Center.
    17. James Heintz, 2010. "The Structure of Employment, Globalization, and Economic Crises: Rethinking Contemporary Employment Dynamics with a Focus on the U.S. and Japan," Working Papers wp242, Political Economy Research Institute, University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
    18. Wietzke, Frank-Borge, 2014. "Pathways from jobs to social cohesion," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6804, The World Bank.
    19. repec:kqi:journl:2017-1-1 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Susan Hayter, 2015. "Unions and collective bargaining," Chapters, in: Janine Berg (ed.), Labour Markets, Institutions and Inequality, chapter 4, pages 95-122, Edward Elgar Publishing.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J08 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics Policies
    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor
    • J3 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs
    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J5 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor-Management Relations, Trade Unions, and Collective Bargaining

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