Daily NK has learned that workers in so-called 'self-sustaining' areas of the North Korean economy are set to see their existing system of food distribution replaced by the payment of additional wages.
A source from North Hamkyung Province revealed the news on the 15th, saying, “According to a Central Party policy that was conveyed to us on the 8th, the system of food distribution for the workers in some factories and enterprises is going to be abolished, and all distribution to them will then be made in the form of wages. The system of distribution for those work units under the state plan will be retained as-is, while only those units that are self-sustaining will move to a system of wages only.”
“Those units that are losing their food distribution system will receive big wage increases,” the source added. “However, it seems that there will be differences from factory to factory and even from job to job.”
North Korean enterprises are divided into eight levels, ranging from level one to level eight with a class of ‘special level’ enterprises as well. Each enterprise receives this designation based on an assessment of things including its role in the economy, productive capacity and size of workforce. Larger enterprises all fall between ‘special level’ and 'level 3', and are affiliated with the central authorities.
Those operating outside production plans ordered by the center have had the authority to deal with production and distribution autonomously since the 1970s. This self-sustaining system was designed to provide an incentive to produce, but also allowed the state to forgo responsibility for providing food and daily necessities by passing it on to provincial level entities.
This includes smaller light industrial enterprises with between 50 and approximately 500 employees between level 4 and level 7, and some workers in larger enterprises who are employed solely in the pursuit of tasks that are designed to earn money for the factory itself.
The fact that only 'self-sustaining system' factories or individuals within larger enterprises will move to this ‘all-wage system’ presents a threat to hopes of significant reform in North Korea. Indeed, the plan appears only to strengthen measures that first appeared as part of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure in 2002.
One defector who previously worked in one of North Korea’s ‘special level’ enterprises told Daily NK, “Take away military factories and most workers in major state enterprises, then the number of people working under the self-sustaining system is not large. Looked at as a percentage of the total production of all North Korean enterprises it cannot be more than 10% and it can’t be more than 20% of all workers, either.”
The source further reported that news of the measure is not impressing workers on the ground.
“I spoke to someone in Onsung County, and he told me that they are reviewing a 600% pay rise to replace food distribution. So, someone previously getting 2000 won would get 12,000 won, but that is still less than the price of 3kg of rice," the source pointed out.
Another problem facing the new policy is the disharmony likely to be caused in enterprises where both types of employee is present, meaning that some will get food distribution while others will not.