[imText1]Jay Lefkowitz, the Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights said, “North Korean workers in Kaesung Industrial Complex is receiving daily wage of less than $2, and their rights to labor is not protected” at the forum regarding North Korean human rights, held by AEI on 30 March.
This remark proves how leaders in America and other Western countries are ignorant about the situation in North Korea.
Monthly wage provided by South Korean companies in Kaesung Industrial Complex is $ 57.5. This is the minimum wage normally provided, which is 50~60% of average wage for unskilled workers in China. Considering the level of economic development, income, social overhead capital, supply and demand in labor, the wage provided is higher than the optimum level.
Experts say the optimum monthly wage in North Korea is around $20~30 even after taking into account its proximity to South Korean market. Therefore, $57.5 of wage is not problematic at all. It is also an amount which mounts to 50~80 times of the wage of normal North Korean workers.
The problem is not the wage in Kaesung Industrial Complex, but the fact that the North Korean government is providing extremely low wage to the North Korean workers in areas “outside of Kaesung Industrial Complex”, and the wage is not even distributed properly. They cannot purchase rice even if they have money in many cases.
If Lefkowitz wanted to bring up the issue of human rights, he should have brought up the wage level of normal North Korean workers which is less than 3 cents a day, and less than $1 a month. It is neither right nor proper to criticize the wage rate in Kaesung Industrial Complex which is higher than the optimum wage.
Can It Be Called a Country Without Tax When 97.4% of the Wage Is Confiscated By The Government?
Another thing that he should have criticized is that the $57.5 of wage provided in Kaesung Industrial Complex does not go to the workers.
Money that goes to the North Korean workers is only 4500KRW ($1.5) after various deductions. North Korean workers only take 2.6% of their wage home. However, this is still twice of the wage of normal North Korean workers, so they are satisfied.
North Korean workers in Kaesung Industrial Complex might not recognize that this is a problem. They are used to obeying the government. However, it is serious and absurd exploitation that the government take away 97.4% of the wage given by companies. It also proves that their propaganda which claims that North Korea is a ‘paradise on earth without tax’ is an absolute lie.
No matter what it’s called, when the government takes the money, it is tax; it is ridiculous for the North Korean government to deduct 97.4% of the wage and to say that they do not have tax. Lefkowitz needs to point out such serious issue, instead of making unreasonable criticisms.
Lefkowitz Needs to Be Aware of the Situation in North Korea
Lefkowitz also mentioned about the workers’ right in North Korea. It is hard to pinpoint what he means by the workers’ right, but from the perspective of employee-employer, the situation in Kaesung Industrial Complex is like that in heaven compared to other areas in North Korea.
In Kaesung Industrial Complex, high quality “South Korea food” which in North Korea, only high level officials can eat, is provided for snacks. Meals are of highest quality, and the relationship between the employer and employee is very good except that they are given more work, compared to other areas in North Korea.
It is possible to criticize South Korean companies when the need arise. However, it is not proper to criticize them for the wage and workers’ rights in Kaesung Industrial Complex which is not particularly problematic from objective point of view, overlooking extremely poor condition of workers in North Korea. This might give people wrong impression as well.
Leaders in America might not be aware of situation in North Korea, but Lefkowitz is the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights. It is shocking to learn that the Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights is criticizing the wage rate in Kaesung Industrial Complex which is about “$2 a day”, unaware of the wage rate in North Korea which is less than ‘$1 a month’. Lefkowitz might have a lot on his table, but he needs to have basic knowledge about North Korea, now that he has been appointed as Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights.
|Kim Young Hwan
– Editor Board, Zeitgeist