We are living in an era of disruption. These disruptive forces take many forms, including rapid geopolitical changes, technological advancements and cultural shifts. Employers are having to navigate these new challenges and find ways to adapt in order to build resilience and continue to grow.

In this year’s Freshfields Asia employment law bulletin, we have, with our StrongerTogether colleagues, looked back at 2019 to identify the significant areas of change in some of the key Asia-Pacific jurisdictions and the way in which these disruptive forces have permeated employment law, employer policies and workplace culture in the region. 

We have also looked to the horizon, to spot the material changes companies in the region should anticipate, as well as the emerging trends we expect to play out in the coming year.

In 2019 some of the key Asia-Pacific jurisdictions, including Australia and Taiwan, saw a continuation of what has become a global theme, with the authorities in those countries focusing on the gig economy and the proper classification of workers. 

Technological advances also influenced government policy in a different way in 2019, with India and Singapore both looking at how to ensure that their populations are appropriately equipped and skilled for the new digital era. Meanwhile, rapid technological advancements continue to require governments and employers alike to grapple with new data protection issues.

The possibility of economic decline in a number of jurisdictions was another general theme of 2019, a trend which is set to continue into 2020. That economic slowdown, partly due to geopolitical tensions, has led to increased pressure on employers in the Asia-Pacific region to manage down employment costs, while protecting jobs and workforce stability. China has indicated it plans to implement new policies in 2021 to reduce workforce costs while providing alternatives to redundancies.

Culturally, a lot has changed over the last decade and that cultural shift is powerfully demonstrated through changes in the workplace. The world’s attention has been caught by the #MeToo movement, which has been reflected in: 

  • employer attitudes, with an up-tick in workplace investigations and attention to employee policies; and 
  • employment law, for example, Australia’s enhanced whistleblower protection regime and South Korea’s anti-bullying legislation. 

As the new decade begins, we see no sign of this focus abating and expect to see further developments to strengthen protections for whistleblowers and more robust statutory provisions to address harassment.

Read the 2020 edition of the Freshfields Asia employment law bulletin

Please do pick up the phone to your usual contacts or get in touch if you would like to discuss any of the issues covered in more detail.