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FILE PHOTO: A picture of a streetside market in Hoeryong taken in 2019. (Daily NK)

The number of people who pay their official employers money to avoid going to work and concentrate on their own private businesses is increasing. Cash-strapped companies are eager to accept such arrangements in order to raise funds for state-mandated projects.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in North Pyongan Province told Daily NK on June 11 that the number of workers relying on these arrangements – also known as “8.3 workers” – has increased significantly since February.

“Previously, 8.3 workers had to pay bribes to company managers in addition to their monthly 8.3 contributions. Now, however, companies are encouraging workers to enter into 8.3 arrangements, as the 8.3 fees help them perform tasks assigned by the government,” the source said.

Currently, the only North Korean employers that pay decent rations or wages are large organizations linked to the regime, such as weapons factories and Workers’ Party agencies. People employed by other companies are paid little for their work and must find other ways to make a living.

While weapons factories in North Korea offer competitive salaries, workers there still earn only KPW 50,000 – 120,000 or receive 15 kilograms of food per month, according to the source. These wages are not enough to support a family of three.

However, individuals with 8.3 earning arrangements can earn more money than workers in the weapons factories. In addition, many people prefer to work for themselves rather than for a company.

Many North Koreans turn to contract manufacturing to make ends meet

Daily NK recently interviewed an individual surnamed Kim who is an 8.3 worker officially employed by a company in North Pyongan Province.

“Since we don’t receive rations or wages, everyone has to find his own way to make a living. In my case, I’m a day laborer [8.3 worker], contract manufacturing goods from China, selling herbs and vegetables I’ve gathered, working as a porter, and helping market vendors,” Kim said.

Kim explained that North Koreans are willing to accept any form of employment if there is a financial incentive. Contract manufacturing, which involves turning raw materials from China into false eyelashes and wigs and preparing them for export, is a popular way for North Koreans to generate income.

“Contract manufacturing provides a more reliable income stream than running a business. Contract manufacturers can currently expect to earn about RMB 15 [about USD 3] per day,” Kim explained. Those who run simple errands or transport goods can earn about KPW 15,000 [about USD 1.5] per day, according to Kim.

Although work is not available every day, hard workers can earn more than workers in most weapons factories. However, it is common for workers who begin an 8.3 arrangement to default on their 8.3 contributions due to insufficient income. These workers are often pressured by their companies to pay up or, in severe cases, even sent to forced labor camps for absenteeism.

“Not everyone who signs up for 8.3 income is capable of being their own boss. However, because individuals have the potential to improve their living conditions compared to working for a company, and because regional companies need the funds, 8.3 work arrangements are likely to continue to grow in the future,” the source said.

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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