Musan Mine workers pay fees to skip work and enter smuggling trade

RIver of Musan Mine
A view across the Tumen RIver of Musan Mine. Image: Daily NK

It is becoming increasingly common for North Korean miners employed at the Musan Mine to pay fees in order to skip work, local sources report.

A practice referred to as “8.3 Earnings” permits workers to pay a specified fee each month to their place of employment in return for being able to skip work and engage in their own private business activities.

As exports of North Korea’s natural resources to China have fallen drastically in the wake of UN sanctions, the production rate at Musan Mine has taken a major hit. Workers who once received around 300,000 KPW in monthly wages are now missing out on regular rations and are reliant on supplies coming in from other regions of the country to survive.

“The dramatic fall in Musan Mine exports has led to a situation where workers aren’t getting paid for work and don’t receive food or anything else,” said a North Hamgyong Province-based source. “Many more workers are just paying their way out of coming to work to focus on their own private business activities.”

Coal production remained at normal levels until 2016, with Musan Mine workers receiving wages that generally matched up with what market merchants were earning at the time. However, the situation has changed significantly.

“Some workers in positions that allow them to earn some money on the side, like those related to logistics, vehicle repair, and electrical systems, still go to work regularly, but there are more miners who are no longer attending in Mining Zones 1 to 3,” the source explained.

“There is a factory that makes forges and some daily use items in the mine. Most factory workers go to work because the factory makes some level of profit.”

It reportedly cost 120,000 KPW per month for Musan Mine workers to skip work in 2015. The miners paid 140,000 KPW a month in 2016 before exports were cut off, and they now pay 30,000 KPW per month.

“The fee reduction is the mine’s way of saying ‘go and earn money outside,’” said the source. “The mine encourages people to pay the fee at the end of the month because it needs to use that money to pay for rations for the other miners.”

“It’s not so easy for miners to pay 30,000 KPW per month to the mine. That being said, they really dislike working in a mine that doesn’t give them any benefits. They have to stop working at the mine to go out and earn money to support their families,” a separate source in North Hamgyong Province reported.

He went on to explain that most miners who stop working at the mine become involved in smuggling activities, trading coal and pig iron for Chinese rice, electronic goods and other products to sell to wholesalers. These activities, however, require tacit approval from the Ministry of State Security (MSS) or the border patrol, and miners have to pay a considerable amount of money to receive permission.

An additional source in the same region reported that some mine workers are saying they’re in “a seriously dire situation” and that their anger with their situation is being directed at “American imperialism.”

“People who conduct smuggling activities under the protection of state organizations are clear and free, but those conducting the same activities by themselves have irregular income,” said the source. “It’s not easy for them to earn 30,000 KPW per month and there are even workers who resort to the selling of illegal drugs and foreign video content to get by.”

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