As they increasingly embrace neo-liberal economic policies (especially since the 1997–8 Asian financial crisis), the Northeast Asian NICs of South Korea and Taiwan are now said to be losing their uniqueness as alternative capitalist models. Central to the neo-liberal project is labour flexibility. This entails the reform of employment legislation and of the wider social settlement between state, business and labour. This article will argue against the ‘homogenization’ thesis by revealing the distinctive political, economic and ideological characteristics that distinguish the recent market-oriented labour reforms in South Korea and Taiwan from neo-liberal transitions elsewhere. The sources of variation in the pathways of labour market reform within the Northeast Asian NICs will also be explained.