Unemployment Grows as DPRK Businesses Reject Hiring Regulations

Institute for Far Eastern Studies
NK Brief No. 07-10-23-1

DPRK authorities are quick to stress that not one single unemployed worker can be found in Socialist North Korea. The truth is, however, unemployment has existed in the past, and now out-of-work laborers are taking on a new form.

With the exception of a small minority of North Koreans, most citizens are assigned professions and dispatched to their place of employment by DPRK authorities with no regard to personal aptitude or skills. This has led to the refusal of some to take assignments in mines, shipyards, and other undesirable factories, creating a group of ‘non-workers’.

However, today’s unemployed are different from the unemployed found in the 1980s and 90s. In the past, these workers refused positions at undesirable factories. In the late 1990s, with the cessation of food rations and lack of job positions, a good number of factories and businesses shut down operations, leading to an increase in unemployment. Now, it is the mines, companies, and yards that are refusing to take on new workers.

Currently, North Korean authorities are tasking managers of organizations and companies with the responsibility of feeding employees. Anyone with the skills and the money can become a manager. Authorities assess whether someone can provide wages and rations for employees, and if so, will put them in charge. However, the order that “Managers not able to carry out the task of feeding [employees] will be released or demoted” has been passed down, putting a considerable burden on executives and managers. As they are now responsible for both the wages and the rations of their employees, these managers are not looking to take on new workers. This is problematic for those dismissed from military service with little or no trade skill, and for those receiving only a middle-school education, especially women. These citizens are turning to trade to provide a living.


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