North Koreans Can Pay Not to Play in Pyongyang's 'Battle of 70 Days'

In a move that is designed to put cash in the government's hands, people can buy time off from the latest state-imposed workathon.

North Korean workers on the West Pyongyang railway protest against the United Nations Security Council's resolution to hit the country with economic sanctions, March 6, 2016.

Kim Jong Un’s thirst for hard currency is outstripping his desire to get North Koreans to labor longer and harder as workers buy their way out of the regime’s latest campaign to increase production, sources inside the country said.

“If you pay three Chinese yuan or half a U.S. dollar, you can officially take one day off,” a source from Yanggang province told RFA's Korean Service.

The North Korean regime periodically declares “speed battles” that are designed to get people to work longer and harder. During these battles North Korean’s are expected to work for the duration of the “battle” without a day off.

The latest campaign called the “battle of 70 days” comes after the U.N. imposed new, sweeping sanctions on the secretive country after it exploded a nuclear device and launched a long-range ballistic missile.

“Under current conditions when U.S. imperialism and its followers are desperate to squeeze our socialist system, the devotion of all party members is a protest boasting of our strength,” reported NK News, quoting a letter adopted by the country's Politburo.

Devotion can be purchased, however.

“People with money are being exempted by buying their way out,” the source in Yanggang told RFA.

At the rate of three Chinese yuan per day, paying 210 yuan (U.S. $32) would allow a worker to skip the entire “battle of 70 days.”

And foreign currency buys more time off than North Korean money, since it takes twice as much North Korean won to get the same time off.

“This will further drop value of North Korean currency, which is already devalued so much,” the source said.

While confirming the payment scheme, a Hamgyong province source said it doesn’t completely exempt people from work.

“It is true that you can take a day off by paying three Chinese yuan,” the source explained. “But you do not get exempted from ‘social duty’ and you still have to complete ‘social duty’ such as the purchase of construction material and scrap iron.”

While three Chinese yuan doesn’t sound like a lot, this is a couple of months' pay for the average North Korean.

“It is not easy to earn that much even working at the local street market all day,” said the Hamgyong province source. “Poor people can only pay to take one or two days off just in case of emergency.”

Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA's Korean Service. Translated by Ahreum Jung. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.