In September 2013, North Korea announced plans to implement
a 100-fold wage increase, reflective of market prices, for workers at a number
of its state enterprises, but in some cases, like Musan Mine, workers report
only receiving ten percent of this amount, the Daily NK has learned.
“Last year in September, it was announced that Musan Mine
workers would be compensated in the amount of 300,000 KPW [36 USD] a month, but in
reality they’ve only been paid 30,000 KPW [3.6 USD],” a source based in North Hamkyung
Province told the Daily NK on Wednesday. “Many of the enterprises do hand out
products from China to their workers each month, but aside from that, most have
only been receiving 30,000 KPW as payment.”
Last year, North Korea increased the wages of state factory
workers handling chief exports such as iron ore, steel, fabrics, and
apparel to 300,000 KPW, in hopes of improving onsite operations and boosting
competitiveness. This move immediately galvanized performance, increasing
production so considerably that the state was able to rake in a substantial sum
of foreign currency.
Once production hit a certain level, the factories started
handing out Chinese fabrics, cooking oil, sugar, and other supplies to the
workers, deducting the costs from their salaries, according to the source, who
was quick to note this as considerably less helpful than receiving the cash
“The supplies received are cheaper than what sells in the
market, but it’s something that gets distributed to thousands of workers at the
same time, so it’s hard to sell [elsewhere],” he said. “A lot of times, people
end up selling the supplies to market vendors for much cheaper prices, so their
wages end up being less than half of what they were promised.”
“These days, because of a dispute over prices with China,
iron ore exports have been halted, and in many cases salaries go unpaid,” the
source said. “With operations suspended at the mine due to the extreme power
shortage in the country, people are worried that they won’t even receive their
In the case of Hyesan Mine in Yangkang Province, conditions
are vastly better, according to a source in the region.
There are roughly 3,000 workers at Hyesan Mine, which is
said to sit on roughly 200,000 tons of copper. The mine is a rank 1 state
facility, jointly run with a Chinese company since 2010, producing roughly
3,000 tons of copper ore annually.
The source said it pays its workers with rations
“distributed just as they would be under regular circumstances,” and the
promised 300,000 KPW monthly salary. He added that despite recent suspensions
in trade with China in a number of earth elements over price disputes, North
Korean state investment and demand have insulated the blow.
“With the recent order for copper to produce bronze statues
of the son and father Kims all across the country, there has been high demand
internally, so workers are receiving rations for their families, along with a
deduction from their salary for rice and other supplies [cooking oil, sugar,
meat],” he explained.
Meanwhile, factory workers around Pyongyang, producing
garments and textiles, have reportedly been receiving a continual payment of
300,000 KPW; however, delays in payment are reportedly frequent, if not invariable.