Archive for the ‘Kaesong Industrial District Development Committee’ Category

2015 Kaesong wage fight (UPDATED)

Monday, May 25th, 2015

In 2011, Kaesong workers officially received their 5th consecutive annual pay increase. In 2012, they “received” their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongyang closed the complex down in a dispute with the South Koreans. In 2014, work resumed at the complex and Kaesong workers “received” a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex). Now it looks like Pyongyang is raising tensions (unjustifiably in my opinion) to recover a “pay increase” they feel they are owed.

For those new to this topic, I should point out that we are not talking about wages paid to North Korean workers. We are talking about US dollar balances (cash) that are given directly by South Korean firms to the North Korean government. The North Korean government keeps all of the hard currency and pays its workers in local currency. That said, The North and South Koreans still officially refer to “wages” (even though they are nothing of the sort), so I will as well.

I am chronicling this developing story in periodic updates below.

____________________

UPDATE 16 (2015-7-9): Two Koreas to hold talks to negotiate Kaesong wage issues. According to Yonhap:

South and North Korea plan to hold talks on a joint industrial park in the North next week to discuss a prolonged dispute over the North’s unilateral move to raise wages for its workers at the complex, Seoul officials said Thursday.

North Korea has accepted the South’s offer for holding the meeting at the Kaesong Industrial Complex next Thursday at the border city of the same name, according to the unification ministry.

The move raises hopes for resolving a months-long wage row between the two Koreas following Pyongyang’s unilateral bid to hike the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 55,000 North Korean workers at the park. A total of 124 South Korean small- and medium-sized enterprises are operating factories there.

The South has rejected the communist neighbor’s move, saying it is in breach of a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages through consultations. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

In August 2013, the two Koreas decided to set up a joint committee in charge of running the industrial park following the North’s unilateral move in April of that year that shut down the park for about four months.

The committee is an integral part of a deal that called for reopening the complex and adopting safeguards to prevent any work stoppages in the future. The committee has not met since June last year due to the North’s refusal.

The joint factory park, which opened in 2004, is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. It has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped communist North, while South Korea has utilized cheap but skilled North Korean laborers.

In what could be a temporary relief, North Korea accepted South Korea’s tentative offer in late May to pay wages at the current level of $70.35, but Seoul and Pyongyang have yet to resolve the issue fully.

Meanwhile, the ministry said that Pyongyang has sent a notice to Seoul saying that it will tighten its surveillance over South Koreans moving in and out of the complex.

The North is known to have expressed complaints over South Koreans bringing in goods, such as mobile phones and newspapers, that are restricted in the North, vowing to take punitive actions if found.

In response, the South said that the issue should be dealt with in accordance with the two sides’ agreement and related regulations, according to the ministry.

UPDATE 15 (2015-5-25): South Korean firms begin paying regular wages, though the matter is still not resolved. According to Yonhap:

South Korean firms in an inter-Korean factory park in North Korea plan to pay wages to their North Korean employees this week, a government official said Monday.

The move came days after Pyongyang accepted Seoul’s tentative offer of wage payments for North Korean workers at the factory park in North Korea’s border city of Kaesong at a previously agreed level until separate consultations are held.

The deal on Friday would allow South Korean firms to pay the wage based on the US$70.35 per month that was originally set. But it called for the 124 South Korean firms to provide retroactive pay based on the outcome of separate consultations.

The official said North Korea demanded that South Korean firms in Kaesong pay March and April wages by the end of this month. The official asked not to be identified, citing policy.

The sides have yet to produce a deal over the more sensitive issue of a wage cap, which has been set at 5 percent per year.

In February, North Korea unilaterally decided to hike the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 53,000 North Korean workers in the factory park.

The factory park, an outcome of the first-ever inter-Korean summit of leaders in 2000, is a major symbol of reconciliation between the rival Koreas.

It combines South Korean capital and technology with cheap North Korean labor to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other labor-intensive goods.

The factory park is a major source of hard-currency for the impoverished north.

UPDATE 14 (2015-5-22): Koreas buy time for talks on wage at factory park. According to Yonhap:

North Korea has accepted South Korea’s tentative offer of wage payments for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park, allowing the two sides to buy time for talks on Pyongyang’s unilateral wage hike, officials said Friday.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute as North Korea unilaterally decided in February to the hike minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of the same name.

The agreement between the quasi-state committees from both sides will allow South Korean firms to pay the wage based on the $70.35 per month that was originally set, according to government officials. Then, the 124 South Korean firms will provide retroactive pay.

Friday’s deal is not final as the two Koreas have not produced a breakthrough over the more sensitive issue of a wage cap. But the North has accepted Seoul’s offer to pay the wage at a previously agreed level until separate consultations are held.

Seoul has rejected the North’s unilateral move, saying that the North violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

“The move will ease concerns about production setbacks that could be sparked by North Korean workers’ threat not to work or to seek a work slowdown,” the Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

It added that the government will make efforts to resolve the wage dispute as soon as possible through talks with North Korea.

The agreement came amid concerns about the strained inter-Korean ties following North Korea’s recent abrupt cancellation of its invitation for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the industrial complex.

On the same day a group of businessmen visited the KIC to help resolve the impasse. According to Yonhap:

A group of South Korean businessmen visited a joint industrial complex in North Korea Friday amid a drawn-out row over wage payment for North Korean workers there, an official from the group said.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute as North Korea unilaterally decided in February to hike monthly wages by 5.18 percent for about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of the same name. Seoul has rejected the North’s unilateral move.

The group of South Korean businessmen with factories there visited the complex in an effort to resolve the prolonged dispute as the 10-day period of the wage payment for April began Sunday. They made similar visits three times before.

The visit came as North Korea abruptly canceled its invitation for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the industrial park, dampening hopes for better inter-Korean ties.

The joint industrial park, which opened in 2004, is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation following a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. It has served as a revenue source for the communist country while South Korea has utilized cheap but skilled North Korean labor.

Seoul said that Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

In August 2013, the two Koreas also decided to set up a joint committee in charge of running the complex following the North’s unilateral move to shut down the park for about four months in April of that year.

Seoul has requested its companies not to send out paychecks, vowing to punish violators. But despite the warning, about 50 out of 124 South Korean companies have paid March wages to the North’s workers apparently after threats from the North.

Here is coverage in Xinhua.

UPDATE 13 (2015-5-19): Kaesong companies pass resolution opposing North’s unilateral wage raise. According to the Hankyoreh:

Kaesong Industrial Complex tenant companies reached an agreement not to accept North Korea’s unilateral demands to increase wages. Instead, they agreed to provide the North Korean authorities with a letter of guarantee to pay the difference in the wages once North and South Korean negotiators reach an agreement.

During a general meeting of the Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex (CAGIC) on May 18, with about 90 tenant companies attending, a group of company chairs approved a letter of guarantee they had proposed providing to the North Korean Bureau of Central Special District Development.

On May 15, the association chairs visited Kaesong to meet Park Chol-su, deputy chief of the bureau, and offered to write a letter of guarantee. The letter would state that the companies refuse to accept North Korea’s request to raise wages but promise to retroactively pay the difference in the wages and the late fees according to the agreement that North and South Korean authorities eventually reach.

On Apr. 20, the deadline for paying the wages for March, the North Korean bureau had asked the South Korean tenant companies to sign a letter of guarantee in which they would effectively acknowledge the wage increase on which it had unilaterally decided and agree to pay the ensuing late fees. Reportedly, five companies agreed to this demand.
In order to prevent South Korean companies from giving in to North Korea’s demands for raising wages, the South Korean government asked them to first deposit workers’ wages with the South Korean management committee, which would then forward the payment to the North Korean bureau.

The government is putting pressure on tenant companies, threatening that it will not extend the loan repayment schedule for companies that do not obey these instructions. Tenant companies were loaned emergency operating funds when the complex temporarily shut down in 2013.

“During a meeting with the group of company chairs on May 17, the Unification Minister said that, if we can show that the companies are not agreeing to North Korea’s demand to raise the wages, the Ministry might not predicate extending the loan repayment schedule on depositing workers’ wages with the management committee,” CAGIC Chairman Chung Ki-sup told reporters after the general meeting on Monday.

“In order to comply with this, we reached an agreement in the general meeting today to pay North Korea the April wages according to the February rates, before North Korea had asked for a wage increase.”

This past February, North Korea notified South Korea that it would be unilaterally increasing the minimum wage of North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex by 5.18% from US$70.35 to US$74 a month beginning with the March wages.
49 of the 125 tenant companies had paid the wages to North Korea as of May 8. The South Korean government is currently investigating to see whether these companies used double bookkeeping to pay their wages at the level North Korea demanded.

The South Korean government has insisted on raising the minimum wage no more than 5% through deliberations between North and South, as the labor regulations stipulated before North Korea unilaterally revised them.

On May 15, the South Korean government sent a message to North Korea through the secretariat of the Inter-Korean Joint Committee on the Kaesong Complex proposing that the committee hold its sixth meeting on May 20, but North Korea again refused to receive the message.

The joint committee was set up after operations at the complex were suspended for five months in 2013 in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a shutdown. The committee is supposed to convene every quarter, but last year, only one meeting was held.

UPDATE 12 (2015-4-21): Pyongyang has allowed normal wages to be paid for March of 2015. According to the Hankyoreh:

“The North said it would allow the payment of the regular wages for now and calculate the difference from the hike later,” explained Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex chairman Chung Ki-sup in a telephone interview with Hankyoreh on Apr. 20. That day marked the deadline for payment of March wages to North Korean workers at the complex.

North Korea recently announced a unilateral 5.18% hike in the minimum wage at the complex, which would raise monthly pay from US$70.35 to US$75.00. The South Korean government has blocked tenant companies from complying on the grounds that a unilateral increase beyond the agreed-upon 5% ceiling is unacceptable.

Chung explained that North Korea “wants us to sign statements confirming the unpaid difference.”

“Wage payments were already made over the course of ten days, so late fees for the difference are being deferred until this weekend,” he added.

The agreement buys a few extra days for authorities on both sides to discuss the matter before additional frictions erupt over the minimum wage hike at the complex. Tenants companies have reportedly convinced North Korea to accept the earlier US$70.35 minimum wage standard for March pay, with the difference to be paid retroactively after authorities reach an agreement on the matter.

“It appears that North Korea took into account the difficult position the tenant companies are in with the South Korean government insisting that they not pay the extra amount,” Chung explained.

“I don’t think North Korea wants the repercussions of this to grow either,” he said.

A group of tenant company directors at the complex had initially planned to visit Kaesong on Apr. 20 to discuss the wage issue, although the plans were eventually canceled.

“Our biggest concern is out of the way now that the North has agreed to accept the pre-hike pay,” Chung said. “My understanding is that the visit was canceled because they concluded it wasn’t going to really fix matters as they stand now.”

UPDATE 11 (2015-4-20): Kaesong firms stuck between Korean governments. According to Arirang News:

South Korea’s Kaesong business owners are stuck in a dilemma.

On the one hand, they’re facing the prospect of having to pay a late fee if they don’t comply with the North’s demand for a wage hike, but on the other hand, they face the possibility of punitive measures from the South if they do.

None of the 124 South Korean companies have paid the March wages yet, which are due April 20th.

North Korea has threatened to impose a late fee of 15 percent per month if the South Korean companies don’t issue the wage payments on time.

South Korea says it will not accept the North’s unilateral demand for a wage hike, saying Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for two quasi-governmental committees to set the pay rate together.

The two committees met for a second time on Saturday, but failed to reach a compromise.

In addition, Seoul has warned the South Korean companies operating in the complex that they will face punitive measures if they concede to the North’s wage hike demands.

The two Koreas have been at odds over the issue since February, when the North unilaterally decided to raise the wage level by more than 5 percent to roughly 74 U.S. dollars a month starting in March for the approximately 53-thousand North Korean workers in the complex.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry says it is still sending messages to Pyongyang asking to meet on the wage issue, but the North maintains that it’s a matter for Pyongyang to decide.

Yonhap reports that a few South Korean firms have made increased payments in accord with Pyongyang’s demands:

Three South Korean firms have paid more wages for North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex as Pyongyang demanded, a government source here said Monday.

Their move runs counter to the South Korean government’s firm stance not to accept the communist neighbor’s unilateral decision to raise wages for its 53,000 workers in the North’s border town.

The North unilaterally decided to raise the minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month, starting in March, for those workers employed by the 124 South Korean small- and medium-sized firms in the Kaesong zone.

Three of the firms paid the increased wages, the source said. They are expected to face administrative punitive action from Seoul’s government.

The South’s unification ministry, meanwhile, dismissed news reports that the North extended a deadline for the payment of the March wage.

UPDATE 10 (2015-4-15): Seoul hints at drawn-out row over Kaesong wage problem. According to Yonhap:

South Korea said Monday it will not be restrained by a timetable in resolving an ongoing row over wage hikes for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park in the North.

The two Koreas have been in dispute since the North unilaterally decided in February to raise the wage level by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month starting in March for about 53,000 North Korean workers hired by South Korean companies at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border city of the same name.

Seoul is seeking to hold talks with the North over the issue through a quasi-governmental committee as the payday for the March wages, which began Friday, will last for 10 days. None of the 124 South Korean firms have paid March wages to North Korean workers.

Seoul’s unification ministry said that it will do its best to resolve the wage dispute, adding that the row may be prolonged if it passes the deadline.

“As we cannot exclude the possibility that the wage dispute cannot be settled until April 20…the Seoul government will continue to make efforts to resolve the issue,” Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman at the unification ministry, said at a press briefing.

“What’s important is that the government has the will to tackle this row. We do not prejudge any situations without having a specific deadline in mind.”

Seoul has not accepted the North’s unilateral move, saying Pyongyang violated a 2004 agreement that calls for two quasi-government committees from each side to set the wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent.

Its efforts for the talks have gained urgency as North Korea will take days off on Wednesday and Thursday to mark the April 15 birth anniversary of its late founder, Kim Il-sung.

The industrial complex opened in the early 2000s, the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation. It has served as a major revenue source for the cash-strapped communist country.

Lim also called on North Korea to stop threatening to retaliate against a move by Seoul activists to resume their campaign to send anti-Pyongyang leaflets and other materials via balloons across the inter-Korean border.

“It is not desirable for North Korea to criticize Seoul activists’ leaflet launch as it is a matter of freedom of speech,” Lim said. “North Korea should immediately stop making threatening remarks to South Korean people.”

Despite Seoul’s request for restraint, anti-North Korea activist Park Sang-hak on Thursday made an attempt to launch balloons carrying leaflets and copies of DVDs of “The Interview,” a U.S. comedy film about a plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. His attempt was scuttled by police.

North Korea said Friday it will take “ruthless” actions against Seoul activists’ move, saying that the move to send the U.S. movie to the North is tantamount to a declaration of war against Pyongyang.

UPDATE 9 (2015-4-1): S. Korea not budging on Kaesong wage row (Yonhap):

South Korea said Wednesday it will ask the country’s firms at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in writing not to succumb to North Korea’s pressure to raise wages for its workers.

The unification ministry said it will soon send a formal letter to 124 South Korean firms operating in the zone just north of the inter-Korean border.

The move comes as the companies, mostly small and medium-sized, will begin to pay March’s wages to around 53,000 North Korean employees on April 10.

In February, the North decided unilaterally to revise a set of labor rules that included the elevation of the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March.

The South has rejected the North’s decision, saying the wage issue should be decided through bilateral discussions.

It has urged the South’s firms in Kaesong not to follow the North’s measure.

“We plan to send an official letter to them in order to again make clear the government’s stance on the matter,” Unification Ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol said.

He added there has been no progress yet in efforts to hold talks with North Korea to discuss the issue.

Here is coverage in the Hankyoreh.

UPDATE 8 (2015-3-18): South Korean business owners have crossed into the Kaesong complex to complain about Pyongyang’s unilateral wage increase. According to the Financial Times:

On Wednesday more than a dozen businessmen representing about 120 companies visited Kaesong, about 10km north of the border, to voice their concerns about the move, amid growing concerns about the future of the joint economic project

“The unilateral change of labour rules is a problem,” said Chung Ki-sup, head of the council of the South Korean businesses operating in Kaesong, ahead of the 14-member delegation’s arrival in the North. “But this can be easily resolved when dialogue resumes.”

Mr Chung said the North’s stance might in part be a reaction to Seoul’s refusal to ban North Korean defectors and rightwing civic groups from sending anti-North leaflets across the border.

Experts say the wage disputes are unlikely to lead to another closure of the industrial complex, but the problems have renewed scepticism over the merits of the project.

“The disputes are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon,” said Park Hyung-joong, researcher at Korea Institute for National Unification. “Pyongyang wants to use Kaesong as a political bargaining chip when inter-Korean relations are not good. So the complex will remain exposed to political problems, but closing it carries too big political risks for both sides.”

Here is coverage in the Daily Mail and Yonhap.

UPDATE 7 (2015-3-17): The DPRK has tried circumventing the South Korean government to reach out to the Kaesong firms themselves. According to Arirang News:

In an unprecedented move, North Korea asked the heads of South Korean companies operating at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong to gather for a meeting that was scheduled for earlier in the day.

No specifics about the meeting were announced and the South Korean government asked the company heads. not to respond to Pyongyang’s call.

Instead, the South Korean government held a meeting in Seoul this afternoon with most of the leaders of companies from the complex.

Seoul discussed possible countermeasures and urged the leaders not to abide by Pyongyang’s one-sided demands.

Watchers believe the meeting was Pyongyang’s way of pressuring the South Korean companies to go along with its unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers from a little over 70 U.S. dollars to 74 dollars a month and revise labor regulations.

UPDATE 6 (2015-3-12): The DPRK rejects South Korea’s call for talks on Kaesong wages. According to Yonhap:

North Korea claimed Thursday its decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex is a legitimate measure under its sovereignty, dimming hopes of an early resolution to disputes between the two Koreas over the issue.

The North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau, which is in charge of operating the complex, made clear that it is not a matter to be decided through consultations with the South’s government.

Last month, Pyongyang notified Seoul of its unilateral decision to elevate the minimum wage from US$70.35 to $74 starting in March. It also said it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security.” Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The South strongly protested against the decision, suggesting that the two sides hold dialogue on March 13 to discuss the problem.

Officials here emphasized that the two Koreas have agreed to decide every issue related with the operation of the joint venture through mutual consultations.

The decision on the wage hike is a “normal and legitimate” exercise of the North’s legislative rights, the bureau’s spokesman told Pyongyang’s propaganda website, Uriminzokkiri.

It’s not a subject for bargaining with the South, he added.

It makes no sense, he added, for the North to hold talks with the South at a time when it is staging a war rehearsal with joint military drills with the United States on the peninsula.

He argued that wages for the North’s workers in Kaesong are still low for their heightened skills and productivity and in comparison with the wage level in special economic zones in other nations.

UPDATE 5 (2015-3-11): Throwing fuel on the fire of this mess, the North and South Koreans are required to resolve real estate rental rates this year. There will be no practical way to resolve this issue independently of the ongoing wage dispute. According to Yonhap:

When the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the North’s border town of the same name started operations in 2004, Seoul agreed with Pyongyang to pay the rent for the North Korean land used by South Korean companies from 2015 after negotiations on the amount.

In November, the North’s Central Special Development Guidance Bureau in charge of the industrial complex notified its South Korean counterpart of its intention to start talks on the rent issue, according to the officials.

But the negotiations are widely expected to face a bumpy road, given a wide opinion gap shown in the countries’ previous exchanges on the issue.

In 2009, the North attempted to collect up to US$10 of rent per 3.3 square meters of land, but it faced strong opposition from South Korea, so the plan was dropped immediately.

Following the North’s notification in November, Seoul has decided not accept such a level of rent as put forth by the North in 2009, which could further mount the inter-Korean tension over the factory complex down the road, according to the officials.

The joint Kaesong factory park is already at the center of an inter-Korean feud after the North announced last month its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage of North Korean workers in the park from US$70.35 to $74 starting with their March wages.

Seoul, however, rejected the wage increase decision and said it will punish any South Korean firms complying with the North Korean demand.

April 10 is feared to become a watershed in the inter-Korean tension over the Kaesong park as South Korean firms will start paying March wages that day.

South Korean officials have previously said that the North could take extreme measures, such as the withdrawal of its workers from the complex in a bid to increase pressure on the issue.

UPDATE 4 (2015-3-9): South Korea not happy with the DPRK’s moves on Kaesong. According to Yonhap:

South Korea’s unification ministry issued a strongly-worded statement Monday against North Korea’s attitude on their joint venture in Kaesong, calling again for immediate dialogue to resolve pending problems.

It’s “deeply regrettable” that the North is not responding to Seoul’s offer of talks to discuss Pyongyang’s unilateral decision to raise wages for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex, said the ministry.

“It’s questionable whether (the North) has the will for the development of the complex as the two sides agreed,” its spokesman Lim Byeong-choel said, reading out the statement at a press briefing.

The North is violating an inter-Korean agreement and rules to decide all issues related to the operation of the Kaesong zone, including working conditions, added Lim.

Last month, the communist nation announced a 5.18-percent hike in the minimum wage for its workers in the zone to US$74 a month starting in March.

“The government can never accept such a unilateral measure by North Korea,” the official said. “The government will take every necessary step for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex and the protection of (the South’s) firms there.”

He urged Pyongyang to hold talks with the South on Friday as proposed.

Launched in 2004 in the North’s border town, the zone is home to about 120 South Korean firms, mostly small and medium-sized, which employ more than 53,000 North Korean workers.

The South’s government has advised the companies not to comply with the North’s decision on the wage level.

UPDATE 3 (2015-3-4): South Korean government holding meeting with stakeholders to determine response to DPRK. According to Yonhap:

The South Korean government said Wednesday it will hold a round-table meeting this week with the heads of local firms operating in the Kaesong Industrial Complex to discuss how to handle North Korea’s unilateral decision to raise the wages of its workers there.

The unification ministry is scheduled to hold the meeting with the council of relevant companies at its headquarters in Seoul at 5 p.m. on Thursday, said ministry spokesman Lim Byeong-cheol. The ministry is in charge of inter-Korean relations.

“We plan to review measures regarding the recent situation,” he said at a press briefing. “Along with related government officials, Chung Ki-sup, head of the council, and about 10 other representatives will attend (the meeting).”

Another ministry official also said the meeting is intended “to share the government’s position on the matter and listen to the opinion of the firms.”

Last week, the North announced it would raise the minimum wage for its workers in the zone by 5.18 percent to US$74 a month starting in March.

South Korea said it cannot accept a decision made without mutual consultation.

The ministry spokesman said the North has not responded yet to the South’s offer of talks on the Kaesong complex on March 13.

“The government will continue to urge North Korea to hold consultations between the authorities of the two sides, which are essential for the development of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Lim said.

The North is apparently aware that both sides have already agreed to resolve every problem related to the operation of the joint venture, he added.

UPDATE 2 (2015-2-26): According to Yonhap:

North Korea has notified South Korea of its unilateral decision to raise the minimum wage for its workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex by 5.18 percent, the unification ministry said Thursday.

In a fax message sent Tuesday, the North said it would increase the minimum wage from $70.35 to $74 starting on March 1, a ministry official told reporters.

In addition, the North announced that it would collect 15 percent of their basic wage plus overtime payments as “social security,” he said. Currently, the South’s firms pay 15 percent of the basic wage alone.

The North Korean workers’ average wage amounted to $141.4 per month in 2014, according to the ministry’s data.

Under Pyongyang’s plan, South Korean firms will have to pay $164 on average for a North Korean worker a month, up 5.53 percent from the current $155, said the official.

He stressed that the South’s government can’t accept the North’s move.

“The two sides are supposed to set wages for workers at the complex and other working conditions through mutual consultations,” he said. “The government will advise our firms to pay the current level of wages until the issue is settled through consultations between the related authorities of the two sides.”

Those companies are scheduled to pay March wages for the North’s workers between April 10-20.

Earlier Thursday, the South attempted to deliver a protest letter, but the North refused to receive it, said the official.

“It’s very regrettable that the North shows such an attitude,” he said.

About 120 South Korean garment and other labor-intensive plants employ more than 53,000 North Koreans at the complex, which was created in 2004.

UPDATE 1 (2014-12-09): North Korea amends Kaesong Industrial Complex labor regulations, lifts wage increase limit. According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

According to a December 5th report of North Korea’s propaganda media Uriminzokkiri, the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly reached a decision on November 20 to revise the Act on the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC).

It reported that ten provisions in the Kaesong worker regulations were revised including the 5 percent ceiling on annual wage increase to the minimum wage.

North Korea’s General Bureau for Central Guidance on the Development of the Special Zone delivered the notice in writing to the Kaesong Industrial Complex Management Committee on December 8, stipulating that 13 provisions were revised. Out of the 49 total provisions, the 13 provisions that were modified pertain to the function of the KIC Management Committee and the wage system.

According to the decision, North Korea elucidated the labor and wage regulations will be unilaterally directed by the General Bureau, dismissing the authority of the KIC Management Committee. Furthermore, the clause that depicts the minimum wage of USD 50.00 and limit of 5 percent wage increase were deleted. Instead, the revised provisions prescribe that the General Bureau will make the decision every year.

In addition, overtime pay will be increased from the current 50 percent to between 50 to 100 percent. Furthermore, workers who have worked for more than a year will be eligible for severance pay, regardless of the condition of their leave. The previous clause stated severance pay was to be paid only when the termination incurred from “circumstance of the company”; but this condition has been deleted from the revised clause, and pay must now be given even for voluntary leave. Also removed was the provision that states the wage should be paid directly to the employee in cash.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government made a statement disproving the recent modifications to the KIC regulations. The South Korean government is refuting North Korea’s decision based on the fact that it was a unilateral decision by the North without consulting the joint committees of the KIC. The South is affirming its position to strongly counter against the North’s one-sided decision.

Revision of the labor regulations of the KIC is regarded as a violation to the general agreement that undermines the stability and the credibility of the KIC regulations. Such labor regulations clearly violate the inter-Korean agreements on wage system and various labor and tax systems newly reached by the various institutions in the North-South Joint Committee of the KIC after the KIC was restarted last year.

The current minimum wage of a KIC worker is USD 70.30, which reaches up to an average of USD 150.00 per month after various incentives are included. Each company is paying a total of USD 210.00 per employee where 15 percent of the minimum wage is allocated to social insurance, transportation, and snack costs.

North Korea has persistently demanded for a wage increase. North Korean employees dispatched to China’s Dandong City are paid an average of USD 300.00 per month. Thus, the recent move by North Korea can be seen as a move to raise the minimum wage at the KIC to a similar level. In addition, this move can be interpreted as North Korea’s intention to maximize economic gain by taking unilateral action toward tenant companies in the KIC.

ORIGINAL POST (2014-12-9): In 2011, Kaesong workers received their 5th consecutive annual “pay increase”. In 2012, they received their 6th consecutive pay increase. In 2013 there was no pay increase because Pyongygang closed the complex down in a dispute with the south Koreans. In 2014, Kaesong workers received a 5% pay increase, but Pyongyang wanted a 10% to make up for the 2013 year (in which they closed the complex!). Now it looks like Pyongyang is signaling that it intends to unilaterally raise wages.

According to Yonhap:

South Korea is scrutinizing North Korea’s unilateral decision to amend a number of wage-related clauses at the jointly operated Kaesong Industrial Complex, an official said Tuesday.

As soon as a review of the North’s demands are finished, the government will take appropriate steps, the unification ministry official told reporters.

“We are in the process of reviewing and analyzing the contents revised by the North,” he said on background.

The South and the North have an agreement over 49 items in place on the working conditions for around 53,000 North Korean workers in the zone.

Without prior consultations with the South, the North announced its decision to revise 13 of them, which include scrapping a 5-percent cap on the annual minimum wage increase rates, easing qualifications for severance pay and strengthening the authority of the North’s agency in charge of running the complex, according to the official.

North Korean workers’ wages have jumped 5 percent every year since 2007. North Korean workers are currently paid US$70.35 each month. If various allowances and incentives are counted, wages reach $130, reportedly about 50 percent higher than the average income of workers in North Korea.

Read the full story here:
S. Korea reviewing NK move over Kaesong workers’ wages
Yonhap
2014-12-9

Share

First real estate auction held in Kaesong Industrial Complex

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No.10-07-15-3
2010-07-15

A real estate auction was held in the Kaesong Industrial Complex for the first time since the joint inter-Korean project was launched. According to the Kaesong Industrial District Development Committee, factory plots (20,472.7 ㎡) in the stage-1 area of the KIC were being auctioned off on July 12. A government source stated, “Land in the KIC has been sold before, but this is the first I know of land rights being auctioned off.”

The company currently on the plot was awarded land rights and permission to build a factory after signing a contract with the North Korean Central Special Development Guidance Bureau. The land rights being auctioned off run until April 12, 2054. It is not known why the land rights are being auctioned off, but it appears that the company currently holding rights to the plot have some financial difficulties, forcing them to sell.

The rights are estimated to be worth more than 1.37 billion won, and the auction is set to close on the 23rd of July. The sale is being handled by the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee. The committee is handling the sale in accordance with the rules set forth on May 10 by the KIC real estate management office. These rules established a seven-member committee of lawyers and other specialists to handle the auction and sale of real estate within the industrial complex.

After the sinking of the ROK warship Cheonan, Seoul authorized more flexible management of South Korean workers in the KIC in order to help companies avoid financial losses in the complex. The government also increased the amount of the inter-Korean cooperation fund from 50 trillion to 60 trillion won in order to ease financial concerns of South Korean companies operating joint ventures, and announced that loans to 183 companies involved in processing-on-commission, as well as 530 other trading companies, would be made at 2 percent.

This move by the government highlights the fact that South Korean companies in the KIC continue to tread on rocky financial footing, despite the announcement by the Ministry of Unification that emergency management stability funds would be made available.

Following the sinking of the Cheonan, the number of South Korea workers in the KIC on any given weekday was reduced from more than 1000 to around 500, and this has caused companies to produce less, have higher costs, and see lower buyer interest. While Seoul tries to keep the industrial complex open, it is also looking into the laws on the Mount Keumgang tourism project, seeking ways to aggressively assist companies involved in the joint scheme.

Share

DPRK continues to supply new laborers to KIC

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 09-7-15-1
7/15/2009

Despite the fact that inter-Korean relations continue to be stalled, North Korea authorities reportedly provided approximately 1,300 new workers in June for businesses entering the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC). Despite the fact that there has been no progress in inter-Korean working-level talks between authorities involved in the KIC, the North is continuing to provide a labor force for South Korean businesses in the complex.

An official from the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee verified that “approximately 1,300 new laborers were supplied last month,” and that “there are some young workers, as well, but the majority are 30 to 40-year-old women.” The official also explained, “the number of laborers was reduced slightly at the beginning of the year; while [their number] was insufficient, laborers continue to come…up until June of this year, while the number fluctuated, an average of around 700 per month [were provided].” Last year, the number of new workers each month was around 1,000.

New workers continue to be provided to the KIC, but there has also been a sharp increase in the number of workers quitting or being removed from their positions. At the end of June, there were 40,255 North Korean laborers; the overall number of workers provided by the North has only increased by 1,324 since the end of last year.

The source explained that at the beginning of 2009, more than 2000 construction workers quit. It appears, according to the numerous reports on the status of employment in the KIC, that the supply of workers is still insufficient, but that the North Korean authorities are working as hard as possible to provide what manpower they can.

North Korea’s Central Special Zone Development Guidance General Bureau recently held a general assembly for all North Korean labor representatives, and ordered them to “work to the max” in order to alleviate all complaints by South Korean businesses. However, as there has still been no resolution to the issue of constructing additional dormitories for the workers, this issue will continue to restrict growth in the number of North Korean laborers, regardless of the attitude in Pyongyang.

Share

North Korea Makes First Insurance Payout to South

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Korea Times
11/26/2006

A North Korean insurance company compensated a South Korean firm for a car crash at the joint inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea, for the first time, reports said yesterday.

A bus belonging to the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, which legally belongs to the Stalinist North, and a vehicle of the Korea Land Corp., a state-run company of South Korea, collided at the complex on July 12, according to reports.

The South Korean company had its car repaired in the south, but asked a North Korean insurance company to cover the bill, which was estimated to be around 1.1 million won ($1,160).

After consulting both companies, the North’s insurance company decided the bus driver was responsible for 80 percent of the incident, paying some 840,000 won, which was actually paid in U.S. dollars, to the South Korean company on Sept. 21.

Some 21 South Korean firms operate factories, using cheap but skilled North Korean labor in the complex, which opened in June 2004. The number of North Koreans at the complex exceeded 10,000 last week, according to the Ministry of Unification.

Share

Kaesong branch bank cash transfers explained

Friday, September 22nd, 2006

From the Joong Ang Daily:
Bankbooks at Kaesong: Furor starts to subside
9/22/2006

The “scandal” over Woori Bank accounts given to a North Korean entity seemed to lose considerable steam late Wednesday night and yesterday, when government documents and explanations by officials clarified, at least partly, the ownership of the accounts and their purpose.

In its late city edition yesterday morning, the JoongAng Ilbo reported that a letter in March from the Unification Ministry to Woori Bank, which allowed a North Korean agency to open an account at Woori’s Kaesong branch, was less incriminating than it appeared. The document was in response to a letter from the bank asking if Woori was within the law by having opened two bank accounts for the agency in late 2004.

The owner of the accounts was the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee; it is headed by a South Korean and has members from both countries. Two additional accounts were opened last year.

Oh Seung-wuk, Woori’s public relations manager, told the JoongAng Daily yesterday that the accounts were controlled by the South Korean members of the committee and were used to channel South Korean workers’ salaries and wages payable to North Korean workers at the industrial complex into their paychecks. He said that only South Korean committee members had access to the accounts.

He also said the bank had sought the ministry’s advice before authorizing the first two accounts, and sought a written confirmation last March. The ministry’s reply to that written request was the document produced by a Grand National Party lawmaker, Kwon Young-se, Wednesday.

But the ministry apparently did try to use its influence in a related but separate matter; other documents provided by Representative Kwon showed that it pressed the bank to allow the North Korean General Bureau of Special Zone Development, which oversees Pyongyang’s capitalist experiments in operating special economic zones, to open other accounts. Woori Bank, supported by the finance and foreign ministries and the National Intelligence Service, objected strongly and prevailed at a meeting in Seoul on March 7.

The issue of “unauthorized transfers” to North Korea flared up partly because of new sensitivity to bank accounts opened by the communist country in the wake of U.S. attempts to limit its ability to finance its weapons and illicit product trade. Earlier accusations said Woori Bank had been involved in $2.37 million in “unauthorized” transfers to Kaesong.

Technically at least, the Woori transfers were indeed “unauthorized” at the time; the Bank of Korea had not been informed of them. In July, the administration agreed to waive the reporting requirement for South Korean investors in the Kaesong project.

The Finance Ministry said the waiver was justified because the purpose of the transactions was clearly documented elsewhere and the transactions themselves were transparent.

A Unification Ministry official also defended the transfers yesterday, saying they were within the bounds of an approved inter-Korean cooperation project, the industrial complex operations.

As the controversy flared yesterday, the unification minister, Lee Jong-seok, said his office had acted properly. “The Kaesong Industrial District Development Committee is a North Korean entity by legal definition, but South Koreans manage it,” he told reporters. “It was formed for the convenience of our companies, so the government allowed the opening of bank accounts.”

He also said international sanctions on North Korea did not exist when the accounts were opened, adding, “It is inappropriate to raise issues against a matter of the past with the view of the present.”

He apologized, however, for the fact that transfers had been made for over a year in violation of the foreign remittance laws.

From Yonhap:
9/21/2006

No S. Korean bank accounts for N. Korea: Unification Minister

No South Korean bank has opened accounts for exclusive use by North Korea or its officials, South Korea’s point man on North Korean affairs said Thursday.

Unification Minister Lee Jong-seok said the claim was untrue.

The remarks came in reaction to a report by local daily JoongAng Ilbo that the government may have influenced the country’s Woori Bank to open up four accounts for a North Korean organization overseeing an inter-Korean project to build a joint industrial complex in the North’s border town of Kaesong.

The organization, the Kaesong Industrial District Management Committee, is a North Korean entity by legal definition, according to the minister. But, he said, it is a South Korean body, established and managed “by our people and for our convenience.”
“Naturally, (the bank) opened accounts for the management committee, headed by (South Korean) Chairman Kim Dong-keun,” Lee said in a regular press briefing.

“It is a very fanciful story to say (the bank) opened the accounts for North Korea and that this may be linked to North Korea’s efforts to evade U.S. financial sanctions, but one that helps no one,” the minister said.

Washington imposed financial sanctions on North Korea late last year, accusing it of counterfeiting U.S. dollars and engaging in various other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal weapons sales.

An group of 34 South Korean officials are working with five North Korean officials at the joint management committee, according to Goh Gyeong-bin, head of the Unification Ministry’s office for the Kaesong project.

But the organization is considered North Korean in a strict sense because it was established under a North Korean law governing the complex, although the law itself is a product of an agreement between the divided Koreas.

“All South Korean companies (operating at the Kaesong complex) are North Korean entities in that sense and pay taxes to the North, but we cannot prohibit (South Korean banks) from opening bank accounts for the South Korean companies there,” the unification minister said.

“That is the unique characteristic that a special economic zone (with the North) carries,” he added.

Thirteen South Korean companies were employing about 8,300 North Koreans at the industrial park as of the end of August, while 24 other businesses from here have begun building factories in the joint complex, or are soon expected to do so, according to Goh.

The government had earlier planned to allow an additional 250 South Korean businesses to move into the joint industrial complex this year, but the planned expansion is at a standstill following the North’s launching of seven ballistic missiles in early July.

“I do not think it would take too long (before the government executes the planned expansion), but it would not be appropriate for now to say when the right time would come,” Lee said.

A key symbol of reconciliation between the Koreas, the joint development project is one of the prominent results of the historic Pyongyang meeting between then South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2000.

Seoul hopes to have as many as 2,000 South Korean companies move into Kaesong before the end of 2012, when the joint industrial complex is expected to be in full swing, employing nearly half a million North Koreans.

The Koreas have been divided along a heavily fortified border since the end of Korean War more than five decades ago.

from the Donga:
North’s Account Requests Kept Quiet

It was revealed that North Korea had been insisting on opening an account at the Gaesong Industrial Complex branch of Woori Bank for six months since the first request it made to the South Korean administration committee of the Gaesong Industrial Complex through the General Bureau for the Guidance on the Development in the Central Special Zone (GB hereafter) which administers and oversees the Gaesong Complex on September 14 last year.

But the government did not disclose this fact for a year thinking that such a request by North Korea can be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the financial sanctions by the U.S. and can give bad influence on the South-North relationship.

Stubborn North Korea-

The first request by the North Korean GB to open an account was verbal, but the request was made again on paper in December last year.

While Woori Bank kept from giving a firm answer, North Korea asked the bank persistently to explain why the account installation was being delayed, and hearing the bank answer that opening an account would be difficult, even threatened the South Korean administration committee that it would close down the Gaesong branch of the bank. North Korea backed up a step when it saw the signs of this sensation spreading, saying, “We didn’t mean it (when we mentioned the close down).”

The government held several meetings until March this year attended by officials of the Ministry of Finance and Economy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the National Intelligence Service regarding such request by the North. An official in the Ministry of Unification said, “We had discussions on the backgrounds of the request by the North to open a bank account and the influences it could give to the South-North relations.”

Silent Government-

“Woori Bank refused the account installation based on its policy that the banks only deals with the enterprises within the Gaesong complex and the South Korean resident workers, and this issue came to a pause when the North said in March it would not raise any more complaints,” the government explained on September 19.

The behind the curtain story of why the government kept quiet about the request by the North to open an account is another controversy.

Only two days after September 14 last year when the North made its first request, the U.S. took measures to freeze the North Korean account of the Banco Delta Asia Bank in Macao. This fact gives us a hint on what North Korea was after when it attempted to make a financial account in Gaesong Complex.

Some people point out that the government could have been taking into consideration the fact that North Korea could be the target of another series of criticisms in case the request by the North is revealed to the world.

Share