“Cheap, Obedient” and Working in China

The number of North Koreans working in and around Dandong, China is growing, with many of them working long hours for quite low wages, according to a new report carried by Chinese economic publication ‘The Economic Observer’.

The article, entitled ‘”Cheap, Obedient” Chinese Workers’ cites local Chinese hotels, construction sites and workshops making things like shoes, clothes and circuit boards as common employers of North Korean workers; businesses many of which it claims are “booming.”

Interestingly, the North Korean people involved are not just illegally crossing the Sino-North Korean border against the wishes of the Pyongyang regime, either.

Rather, following the shutting down of the inter-Korean garment trade previously based in and around Pyongyang in accordance with the May 24th Measures that followed the sinking of the ROK Navy vessel ‘Cheonan’ by North Korea on March 26th, 2010, “The textile firms that employed them have been trying to export workers to China, with the tacit consent of their government.”

On this, one restaurant owner in Dandong noted, “As well as the normal cross-border trade, some of the trading companies are also involved in introducing illegal North Korean workers.”

These trading companies apparently set a minimum monthly salary of 1,200 Yuan ($190) for the North Koreans, in addition to demanding a lump sum of 3,000 Yuan ($475) to cover transit, medical examinations, training and short-term accommodation.

One worker interviewed for the piece now works 14 hours a day in a restaurant in the city for that minimum salary plus two meals daily and a bed in a dormitory.

“He does whatever he’s told and doesn’t complain,” the man’s boss, the restaurant owner is quoted as saying.

Despite the hardships the workers suffer, the report notes, many lived in far worse circumstances back in North Korea.