North Korea rolls back popular workplace exemption program

Factory in North Pyongan Province, North Korea
Factory in North Pyongan Province, North Korea. Image: Daily NK

In some parts of North Korea, the government appears to be rolling back a popular employment exemption scheme allowing workers to conduct business outside of their assigned workplaces in return for a fee. Complaints are reportedly arising among the many citizens who depend on the system for their livelihoods.

The 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 conduct their own private business activities.

“In early February, a worker moved to a state-run enterprise in North Pyongan Province specifically to participate in the 8.3 Earnings system, much to the ire of other workers. But it’s technically illegal to do that and once the cell secretary got wind of it, and it made its way to the higher-ups, the manager in question was removed from his post,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

A source in Jangang Province reported similar developments at an enterprise in his region. “Workers were tired of not getting paid on time and those who were able decided to contribute 8.3 Money to go out and get involved in market activities. But it turns out the factory manager was just pocketing their payments for himself,” he said.

Sanctions targeting North Korea have dealt a blow to many of the country’s already operationally-challenged factories. According to a source in North Pyongan Province, this, combined with a growing number of workers looking to participate in the work exemption system, has left the authorities scrambling to respond to what they see as a “major societal issue.”

Accordingly, the source and those around her were informed in recent public lectures about new government restrictions on the 8.3 system.

“Naturally this has caused major ripples for working class North Koreans. People rightly feel that they’re being punished yet again for the bad behavior of cadres. How are we supposed to feed our families if our workplace is out of operation, doesn’t compensate us, and we’re not allowed to go out and earn money elsewhere?” she lamented.