A photo of North Korean farmers spraying pesticides published by North Korean media on May 5. (Rodong Sinmun - News1)

Faced with pressing food and rural labor shortages, North Korea recently began permitting mass mobilizations of factory workers to provide labor in agricultural areas, Daily NK has learned. 

A source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that, following a Central Committee order on May 5, the authorities have allowed certain groups of people to move about without travel certificates starting this week.

“While mobilizations of agricultural labor had previously been limited to a handful of organizations such as the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea, factories and enterprises in Pyongyang and in provincial, city, and county jurisdictions will begin full-scale mobilizations of agricultural labor from this week,” he explained.

The source added that the new measure enables unrestricted movement of workers at factories and enterprises to agricultural villages suffering labor shortages.

North Korea has restricted individuals from freely traveling throughout the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest measure shows that, with the start of the farming season, the authorities intend to ensure that workers can move in an unrestricted fashion to agricultural villages. 

North Korea has also ordered intensified crackdowns on individuals caught moving around on private business during the farming season. Anyone caught is to be subject to forced labor. 

On Aug. 25, 2020, North Korea’s Ministry of Social Security declared a curfew from 8 PM to 5 AM during April to September and 6 PM to 7 AM from October to March. The curfew is still in effect.

Moreover, the authorities completely banned movement between regions, stopping locals from traveling to different cities and counties without a travel certificate.

The source said the authorities have enabled only workers supporting agricultural villages to travel without certificates, taking into account the labor shortages on farms. He said the government’s move to enable this sort of movement amounts to a general mobilization order to support agricultural villages.

Meanwhile, the authorities have ordered factories and enterprises in Hamhung, South Hamgyong Province, to mobilize workers for farming activities in agricultural villages. Workers at factories located near farms under their purview are being mobilized to work on a daily basis, while workers at factories located more than 50 li (15 miles) from the farms they are supporting are being mobilized in weekly shifts. 

The source pointed out, however, that many farm managers are saying they are under pressure because they are now responsible for feeding the workers mobilized to their farms.

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.