Archive for the ‘Labor conditions/wages’ Category

North Korea amends Kaesong Industrial Complex labor regulations, lifts wage increase limit

Monday, December 29th, 2014

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.

Share

DPRK raises economic tension at Kaesong Complex

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

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.

The KIC was previously closed down over  a political dispute between the Koreas.

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

Share

North Koreans working in China (2013 and 2014)

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

UPDATE 1 (2014-11-11): Yonhap has now published some more realistic numbers of North Koreans working in China:

The number of North Koreans going to China to find work rose an average 20 percent annually in the last three years, reaching a record 93,000 in 2013, a report by a local international traders association said Tuesday.

These North Koreans are usually paid barely more than half what Chinese workers get, according to the findings by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

The report said the rate of workers’ increase is more than twice as high as the 9.1 percent in overall rise of migrant workers entering China in the same period.

For 2014, 44,000 North Koreans have arrived in the world’s second largest economy to find jobs, roughly on par with figures from the year before.

KITA said the number of North Korean workers entering China constitutes 47.8 percent of North Koreans visiting the neighboring country as a whole. Last year some 207,000 North Korean nationals entered China, up sharply from 116,000 in 2010.

“The increase seems to be a win-win arrangement for both sides since workers send back money, which is an easy way for the cash-strapped communist country to get hard currency, while China benefits from cheap labor,” the trade association said.

North Korean workers are usually paid 260,000-280,000 won (US$238-256) per month, which is much less than 440,000-530,000 won that businesses pay Chinese citizens.

In particular, KITA said that agreements signed between Pyongyang and Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces and other regional authorities in the North Korea-China border areas in 2012 is effectively fueling the influx of cheap workers.

The agency said South Korean companies, however, that have set up operations in China are barred from using North Korean workers due to opposition from Pyongyang.

“There is a need to get North Korea to lift its ban on allowing its workers who can benefit these firms to be employed by a South Korean company,” a KITA official said. He said in the long term, it may be feasible to use North Korean workers, with their cheap labor costs, to allow South Korean firms to make inroads into China’s domestic consumer market.

Read the full story here:
Influx of N. Korean workers into China jumps 20 pct annually in 3 years
Yonhap
2014-11-11

ORIGINAL POST (2014-10-14): According to Yonhap:

About 7,000 North Koreans are estimated to be working in China’s border cities with the North, bringing hard foreign currency to the cash-strapped regime, a senior South Korean diplomat said Tuesday.

“We have estimated that there are around 2,500 North Korean workers in Dandong and some 4,500 North Korean workers in Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture,” said Shin Bong-sup, consul general at the South Korean Consulate in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

Dandong is a Chinese border city where more than 70 percent of bilateral trade between North Korea and China is conducted. Yanbian, home to ethnic Koreans in China, also borders North Korea.

Shin gave the estimated number of North Korean workers in the Chinese border cities during an annual parliamentary audit in Beijing.

This number is much lower than I would have expected. In 2012, Yonhap reported that there were 4,000 North Koreans in Kuwait. Additionally, two stories in 2012 (see here and here) put the number of workers at 20,000-40,000.

However a recent report in the Daily NK indicates that cross-border family visits (which often involve significant business activity) are also on the decline this year.

Read the full Yonhap story here:
About 7,000 N. Koreans work in Chinese border cities: diplomat
Yonhap
2014-10-14

Share

North Koreans working on Qatar construction projects

Friday, November 7th, 2014

According to The Guardian:

In the sprawling construction zone that will eventually become Qatar’s gleaming $45bn (£28bn) Lusail City, where the 2022 World Cup final will be held, four construction sites are said to be using North Korean workers, although there is no suggestion they are involved in building World Cup stadiums.

On one site, North Koreans battled biting desert sands and searing heat to construct a luxury residential tower. They laboured on as day turned to night, long after workers from other nationalities had left the site.

One North Korean worker helping to build the high-rise said: “People like us don’t usually get paid. The money does not come to the person directly. It’s nothing to do with me, it’s the [North Korean recruitment] company’s business.”

A project manager of the lavish development said the workers “don’t have a single rial themselves” and “borrow money from us if they need small things like cigarettes”.

“The descriptions of the conditions North Korean workers endure in Qatar – abuse of vulnerability, withholding of wages and excessive overtime – are highly indicative of state-sponsored trafficking for forced labour,” a modern form of slavery, said Aidan McQuade, the director of Anti-Slavery International.

Sources in Qatar estimate there may be as many as 3,000 North Koreans working on projects across the emirate. They are part of an army of workers the North Korean regime exports around the world to bring in much-needed foreign currency. According to defectors’ groups, there may be as many as 65,000 North Koreans abroad, mainly working in Russia, China, Mongolia and the Middle East.

Kim Joo-il, a former army officer who escaped North Korea in 2005, estimates that the Pyongyang government typically takes 70% of the total salary of workers abroad, and that after all “fees”, notionally for food and accommodation, have been paid, workers will be left with only 10% of their salary.

Two employees of state-run North Korean recruitment firms operating in Qatar admitted that their workers do not receive their salaries in person, but insisted a proportion of their wages are sent back to the workers’ families in North Korea.

A spokesperson from the ministry of labour and social affairs said: “We take all issues around worker payment extremely seriously. There are currently 2,800 North Korean guest workers registered in Qatar and we have no recorded complaints about their payment or treatment. Qatar is determined to continually improve labour conditions for all who work in the country, and will continue to work with NGOs, businesses and other governments to achieve this.”

North Koreans are alleged to have participated in construction of facilities at South Africa’s World Cup as well.

Here are previous posts involving Qatar.

You can read the full story here:
North Koreans working as ‘state-sponsored slaves’ in Qatar
The Guardian
2014-11-7

Share

DPRK visitors to China in 2014

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

According to Yonhap:

The number of North Korean visitors to China fell more than 6 percent on-year in the first nine months of this year, a U.S. news report said Thursday, in an apparent sign of chilled relations between the two ideological neighbors.

Some 139,800 North Koreans traveled to China between January and September this year, down 6.5 percent from the same period last year, Radio Free Asia reported, citing China’s National Tourism Administration.

It marked the first decline in three years, possibly due to frayed ties between the two countries.

The figure rose 18.6 percent in 2012 and continued to grow 14.4 percent last year.

Employment was the most common reason to travel to China this year with 47 percent, followed by conferences and business with 19 percent. Less than 1 percent went there for tourism.

The vast majority, or 113,000, of them were men, compared with just 26,800 women, according to the report.

Read the full story here:
N. Korean visitors to China drop 6.5 pct in 2014
Yonhap
2014-10-30

Share

Rungra 88 Trading Company

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

Neungna 88 [Rungra 88],  Trading Company, located in Suncheon, South Pyongan Province, has been a popular workplace for women, offering jobs in clothes manufacturing. It is one of the companies tasked with earning foreign currency for the North, but recently, with the wages standing at a mere 10th of individually employed workers, more people are leaving their posts, the Daily NK has learned.

“Workers employed by breweries or bakeries receive roughly 200,000 KPW a month,” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on Tuesday. “But at Neungna 88, workers on the clothing line only make 20,000 KPW even though they work in unsatisfactory environments.”

The trade company falls under the Chosun Workers’ Party’s Finance and Accounting Department and exports to China everything from coal and iron ore to medicine, alcohol, clothing, and health supplements, earning back foreign currency. The profits are offered up to the Department or are used to procure holiday gifts for Party cadres under Kim Jong Eun’s name.

Neungna 88 in Suncheon is a branch of the headquarters in Pyongyang, and focuses on exporting clothes in collaboration with China, meaning the company brings in the yarn, fabric, and designs from China, and then exports the final products back. It also runs a restaurant serving pizza to procure additional funds. Increasing foreign food availability is the latest method employed by these foreign-currency organizations to encourage resident spending, encouraged by the increased demand. For foreign currency-earning enterprises to extend their activities domestically is indicative of the increasing purchasing power of the middle-class.

“If you get to Daedong River in Sunchon, you’ll see a big sign on a three-story building that reads Neungna 88 Trading Company,” the source explained. “The first floor is a pizza place, and on the second and third stories, there are some 150 women making clothes.”

Their monthly wages are 20,000 KPW [2.3 USD], which is almost seven times higher than other state-run companies, but the lowest among trading companies.There are no standards as to how much these trading companies have to pay their employees, and each company decides based on the profits and amount of work allocated.

Unlike men, it is very rare for women in their teens or 20s to work for a trading company. Despite this fact, some women work on garment manufacturing lines because of the regular food rations and extra benefits offered on national holidays, regardless of the low wages.

However, recently more people have been quitting their jobs, as those who are hired by private businesses are able to receive up to a ten-fold increase in wages and work in a more pleasant environment, the source explained. This portends a growing number of women who are seeking more than a low wage with rations and instead looking for better employment opportunities.

With this trend, the company has been trying to hire more women with experience at state-run apparel factories, but not many are willing to due to the low salary. “Because of this, unless Neungna 88 raises its wages it will create obstacles for exports, not only due to technical difficulties, but also low morale,” she concluded.

Read the full story here:
Women Leaving Low Paying Trade Co. Jobs
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-10-16

Share

KIC goods and the DPRK’s Choco Pies

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014

According to the Daily NK, the DPRK has developed its own version of the South Korean “Choco Pie”. And it is apparently winning over North Korean consumers:

[…] the once popular South Korean snack Choco Pie is seeing a decline in its asking price. In June, Pyongyang demanded that South Korean companies at the industrial complex stop distributing Choco Pies to workers there, as officials had found it problematic that North Korean workers were saving the snacks and selling them in the markets. More recently, the northern workers have been receiving Chaltteok Pie (찰떡) [a chocolate covered rice cake from the South], individually packaged coffee, yulmucha (율무차)[grainy tea made with Job’s Tears], and candy bars.

“In Pyongyang, at the ‘Geumeunsan Trade Company,’ (금운산, Kumunsan Trade Corporation) they have been baking bread for about a year,” the source said, adding, “Of all the different kinds of bread, the most popular are the ones with butter inside, and they are less than 1000 KPW– much cheaper than Choco Pie.”

The trade company is an affiliate of the Military Mobilization Department [Military Manpower Administration in South Korea], which deals with the procurement of military supplies among its many functions. They either directly import the goods or obtain them from military factories in various locations across the country, and oversee the manufacturing of military equipment and machinery.

Geumeunsan Trade Company maintains branches in multiple areas, including Rasun and Cheongjin, and the office in Pyongyang imports ingredients such as flour, sugar, and cooking oil directly from China. According to the source, the raw material prices are cheaper than in the  North’s markets, and the products taste good, allowing it to monopolize the confectionery market there.

“The company has brought in foreign equipment and technology, putting it ahead of the South’s Choco Pie in price and taste,” he said, concluding, “This is why with the introduction of these different breads in Pyongyang, the price of Choco Pie [from the South] has dropped to 500 KPW from 1,200 KPW.”

The same story also reports that goods produced in the Keasong Industrial Complex are selling really well in the DPRK:

“These days, there are all kinds of goods in the markets,” adding that “no matter what kind of foreign products come in, they cannot beat KIC goods, which sell out due to high demand.” In North Korean markets, goods from South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, and elsewhere are brought in either through official or illicit trade routes. The products are then sorted by quality into “good, average, and poor” with corresponding prices.

“With the KIC now back in full operation, products are spilling into the markets,” he explained. “The goods produced there are not found in the Kaesong markets but areas such as Sinuiju [near the northwestern border] and Pyongsong [located an hour North of Pyongyang].”

Merchandise from the joint complex, such as clothes, shoes, and other mass-produced goods, sell for much higher prices compared to those from China, because not only are they new in the market, they are also considered scarce. The hefty price tag is believed to include a premium for the risk of smuggling the goods out of the heavily guarded industrial park and the bribes required to gain entry.

The items most popular with men are hiking boots, especially those made with special materials to withstand cuts from sharp objects like knives, and pants. Women, on the other hand, prefer goods for around the home, such as high-quality and sanitary cutting boards, the source told Daily NK.

“Top-quality pants from China in the Pyongsong market sell for a rather high price of roughly $10 USD, but KIC products sell for $30 USD,” he said. “Although Chinese products use the best material they have, there’s a big difference in the quality and degree of processing,” justifying why those who have used KIC-produced goods will invariably opt for them again, even if it means they need to pay more.

Authorities in the North try to keep a tight lid on goods from KIC trickling into the black market in an effort to prevent people from longing about life in the South. According to the source, this is why sellers or buyers refrain from using the word “Kaesong” and simply say, “Do you have goods from the Complex? Complex pants, or Complex shoes?”

The article does not mention it, but I suspect that not many goods are smuggled out of the KIC. The goods are probably exported from South Korea to China where they are imported back into North Korea.

Read the full story here:
Kaesong Goods Fetch Highest Market Prices
Daily NK
Seol Song Ah
2014-9-24

Share

Seoul to raise wages of Kaesong workers

Monday, June 9th, 2014

The actual headline should read “Seoul increases payments to DPRK goverment by 5% for each Kaesong worker” since it is no secret that “employees” receive little if any of their wages.

According to Yonhap:

South Korea will hike the salary of North Korean workers at an inter-Korean industrial complex by 5 percent from this month, the unification ministry said Monday.

The wage hike came after the two Koreas made the agreement about three months earlier than their usual annual wage talks for July.

The countries had annually agreed to a 5 percent wage increase in July, which starts to take effect from August, but this year’s earlier-than-usual wage hike came after the workers missed their annual hike last year due to a temporary suspension of the complex in the North Korean border town of Kaesong.

Amid worsening inter-Korean tension, Pyongyang had suspended the operations of the Kaesong Industrial Complex for five months from April.

The latest 5 percent hike in the North Korean workers’ minimum wage takes effect from their May salary, to be paid in late June, according to the Unification Ministry.

The two sides “agreed to hike the North Korean workers’ wage at the Kaesong Industrial Complex to US$70.35, an increase of 5 percent from now,” unification ministry spokesman Kim Eyi-do said in a briefing.

“So far, the minimum wage had been raised from August, but (we) decided to bring it forth by three months this year in consideration of (South Korean) companies’ opinions at the complex,” Kim said.

Citing the absence of a wage hike last year, Pyongyang had demanded a 10 percent wage hike this year.

About 52,000 North Korean laborers are employed by more than 100 South Korean companies operating in the joint factory park, a major cash cow for the communist country. Each North Korean worker receives up to $150 in monthly wages, including social benefits and overtime.

Read the full story here:
Seoul to raise salary of N.K. workers at Kaesong complex
Yonhap
2014-6-9

Share

Economic Management Improvement Measures – changes after one year

Friday, April 11th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)
2014-4-11

The Choson Sinbo, a Japan-based pro-North Korean newspaper, reported on April 2, 2014 that since March of last year all production facilities across North Korea have begun to take measures that will allow them to operate more autonomously. The article is currently garnering attention due to its explanation of the changes and improvements to economic management and by introducing factories where these measures have been successful.

The news also reported that North Korean factories have to diverge from the national economic plan and produce and sell products at their own discretion. Furthermore, workers’ compensation and benefits packages are being adjusted according to each individual factory’s economic situation.

One year after the implementation of the economic management improvement measures, the concept of “business know-how” has begun to settle in each factory. Factories that have been achieving successful results all share similar developments in worker enthusiasm, sense of responsibility, originality and creativity. Promoting the growth of these qualities in factory workers became the key to the successful economic management and growth during this period.

Specifically, the newspaper reported that the North Korean factory workers are seeing returns on their increased profits, and that their enthusiasm is the driving force of the nation’s economic growth.

In the article, Pyongyang Electric Cable Factory 326 was introduced as the first factory to be labeled as a “leading unit” and is considered as an ideal factory workplace for many job seekers in Pyongyang.

At this factory, monthly wages have steadily risen in increments that allow workers to meet the rising costs of living and maintain healthy lives. Workers at Pyongyang Electric Cable Factory 326 are now earning dozens of times more than the national average every month, and the highest record for wages soaring to over 100 times the average was observed this past year.

Alongside slogans and posters that inspire the workers’ will to work, competition charts are also posted at various locations around the factory. This has created a sort of “Socialist production competition.” Factories that submit detailed reports of their business performance receive gifts, and the unit that receives first place is rewarded with a special congratulatory dinner.

Another reason why job seekers are choosing this factory as their ideal workplace is because of housing security. Factory 326 solves its workers’ housing problems by constructing residence complex for the employees and workers become eligible to receive housing after working three to four years.

According to the article, the recent measures taken to improve economic management have been effective in creating a sense of attachment between worker and factory and increasing workers’ desire to succeed. This, combined with the introduction of new scientific technology has allowed factories across North Korea to attain a 10 percent increase in production over the last year. While overall production has in fact increased, it can be concluded that the boost to worker morale is the biggest and most important part of the changes seen in the economy since the implementation of the management improvement measures.

On March 31 of last year, the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea held a plenary meeting where the “Byungjin line” or parallel policy that supports both economic and nuclear development, was adopted, and where Pak Pong Ju was elected to the Politburo — and later Premier (formerly First Deputy Director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party) — in an unprecedented move. From this point forward, North Korea began to officially advance its plans for economic management measures.

Share

DPRK factories take up sharecropping

Saturday, March 22nd, 2014

According to the Daily NK:

This spring has brought a noticeable increase in the number of North Korean factories and enterprises leasing out parcels of farmland to private individuals, it has emerged.

A source from North Pyongan Province reported the news to Daily NK on the 21st. She explained, “The trend recently has been towards factories leasing out parcels of their farmland. On average they agree to divide up production 70/30, but in cases where lessees have already shown the ability to generate good returns on their own private plots it can be as high as 50/50.”

North Korean factories and firms use land given to them by the state to grow supplementary foodstuffs for employees, such as vegetables for use in side dishes like kimchi. Large ones have dedicated units that manage their farmland full-time, while smaller ones do so on an ad hoc basis.

The lease agreements are being concluded according to not only the capacity of the farmer to generate returns, but also upon which side is to provide inputs such as vinyl coverings and fertilizer, the source went on to reveal. If the majority of the inputs are to come from the factory then the harvest is likely to be divided 70/30 in favor of the factory. If the farmer is making the majority of the investment personally, the division can be as high as 50/50.

“Obviously, anyone who has money is going to prefer a 50/50 split, and people who don’t are going to get 70/30,” the source said. “Factories generally like the 50/50 split more because it means they do not to have to concern themselves with the farming process itself.”

Lessees are in some cases able to secure access to farmland via bribery or human networking, but the source emphasized that the ability to generate a good harvest is what usually matters. “We’ve had private farm plots here for the better part of 20 years now,” she pointed out, “so we know very well who has lots of farming experience and who is hard-working.”

Sources explain that people who are officially registered as members of cooperative farms cannot farm land owned by factories in this way. In general, the ones taking out the leases are either factory workers who know how to farm effectively, or failed traders who have turned to farming other people’s private plots for them.

Importantly, the leasing of land in this way appears to have become official policy. This marks a shift in approach: although cases of similar deals between factories and private individuals started to appear at the beginning of the 2000s, these were illegal which limited their spread. Conversely, the authorities have been focusing heavily on improving the efficiency of the agricultural system for the last 2-3 years, and instances of land rental are now more widespread than ever before.

In an interview with the pro-North Korea publication Choson Sinbo last May, Kim Myong Ho, a 52-year old director in the North Korean Ministry of Light Industry, explained that the government had decided to grant factory and enterprise managers greater authority in order to improve industrial production.

Authority over land owned by individual factories and enterprises rests with factory managers, who decree what is grown, in what quantities, and by whom. Therefore, in the event that managers stipulate that their land is being leased in order to increase production, the leases are acceptable to the state.

“The state directive was that we have to improve production and the management of state firms,” the source commented. “They don’t mind whether this is done by farming the land directly or by leasing it to other people to farm.”

Read the full story here:
Farm Deals Abound as State Pushes for Production
Daily NK
2014-3-22

Share