Archive for the ‘Labor conditions/wages’ Category

2015 Kaesong wage fight (UPDATED)

Wednesday, March 18th, 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.

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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

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And just how much are overseas North Koreans earning?

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Anna Fifield, in this interesting Washington Post story, actually gets a current data point:

Kim is part of the economic lifeline that is keeping North Korea afloat. He manages a factory in a small town outside Dandong, China’s commercial gateway to North Korea, where North Korean women work making clothes for a Chinese company. The women are allowed to keep one-third of the $300 a month they earn, while the rest goes back to Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang.

In a second article, she provides a little more information:

In the clothing factory, the women work 13 hours a day, 28 or 29 days a month, and are paid $300 each a month — one-third of which they keep. The rest goes back to the government in Pyongyang.

“Even though I want to pay them more, I have to send a certain amount home to my country, so this is all I can give them,” Kim said in his office at the factory. On his desk, an open laptop revealed that visitors had interrupted his game of solitaire.

North Korea is thought to have at least 50,000 workers outside the country earning money for the regime, and 13,000 of them work in Dandong.

Assuming that there are 50,000 workers earning $200 each / month for Pyongyang (a low-ball figure in my opinion), this would imply a cash transfer of $120 million per year. Not a lot of money on a national scale, but remember this is a lower-bound estimate.

At the same time in Geneva, special rapporteur Marzuki Darusman said he was launching an inquiry into the “bonded labourers” working for the DPRK. Read more about this in The Guardian.

The full articles are worth reading here:
“Talking kimchi and capitalism with a North Korean businessman”
Washington Post
Anna Fifield
2014-3-16

North Korea’s growing economy — and America’s misconceptions about it
Washington Post
Anna Fifield
2014-3-13

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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