North Korean workers sent to China to earn revenue for the regime are being forced to labor in unsafe conditions and are frequently deprived of part or all of their pay, sources in North Korea and in China said.
As many as 1,000 North Koreans have been working in “stressful” circumstances at a factory in Hunchun city in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in northeastern China’s Jilin province, with 200 of the group recently sent on to another site, a North Korean trader based in Hunchun told RFA’s Korean Service.
“Those 200 workers were dispatched by the Daehung Trading Company and have been assigned to process various kinds of seafood, including pollock, which China imports from Russia,” RFA’s source said.
Daehung, a company based in North Korea’s coastal Rason Special Economic Zone, had contracted with the Chinese firm to pay each worker 800 yuan (U.S.$126) per month along with room and board, but then promised the workers only 300 yuan (U.S.$47) of that amount, the source said.
Now, even that reduced amount is not being paid, he said.
“They have no salary at all,” he said.
“They work for 12 to 14 hours a day and are allowed only day off each month, but they can travel back to North Korea by bus on their days off.”
“They are allowed to carry with them up to 50 kg of seafood leftovers dumped by the factory, and they sell these back home as their only source of income,” he said.
For much of this year, North Korean authorities have withheld salaries from its overseas workers in order to raise funds for the October 10 celebration of the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding Korean Workers’ Party, sources said in earlier reports.
North Koreans sent to China to bring in cash for the regime said handlers had failed to pay “several months” of salaries to their workers and had forced them to take part in a “Foreign Currency Earning for Loyalty” campaign, sources said.
Another worker who recently returned from China told RFA that at least 60 North Koreans sent to a coal-processing plant in Shandong province’s Qingdao city are receiving only part of the earnings promised them.
Because of a drop in sales linked to declining consumption of coal, the factory has told its workers it cannot pay full salaries “as before,” the source said.
“Even during normal production days, though, the North Korean workers at the factory are not given required safety equipment, such as protective masks or gloves,” he said.
“And this unfair treatment is not limited just to those North Koreans going to China,” the source said, adding, “It is something endured by North Koreans sent anywhere overseas to work.”
More than 50,000 North Koreans have been sent abroad to work in China, Russia, Africa, and the Middle East, bringing in an estimated 1 billion pounds (U.S.$1,504,140,000) each year for the regime, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea Marzuki Darusman said, quoted in an Oct. 29 report by The Guardian.
In addition to seafood processing and factory work, many are employed in logging, textiles, and construction.
Companies hiring North Korean workers are “complicit in an unacceptable system of forced labour,” Darusman said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Richard Finney.