North Korean neighborhood watch heads share stories about Samjiyon construction site conditions

Propaganda rally at Samjiyon construction site
Propaganda rally at Samjiyon construction site. Image: Rodong Sinmun

Following a People’s Committee directors meeting in Pyongyang, the inminban heads (neighborhood watch units) from each part of the country were mobilized for the Samjiyon modernization project in mid-May. These inminban heads have now returned home and have brought with them stories of the dismal working conditions in the area.

“The head of an inminban who returned on June 8 said that the ‘shock teams’ and ordinary citizens working on the project are living in shacks,” a Ryanggang Province-based source told Daily NK. “There are just so many people there that the authorities haven’t been able to organize enough accommodation. People aren’t able to sleep that well and are complaining of being tired all the time.”

Workers at the construction site generally wake up at 4 AM and work for several hours before having breakfast at around 9 AM, the source said, citing the inminban head.

The breakfasts are a mix of corn rice and flour, and are eaten at the construction site, but the workers complain that the portions aren’t big enough to fill their stomachs.

Workers often try to rest a little at lunchtime (12 PM) by heading to their shacks, but this is not officially permitted. Lunch is also eaten out at the construction site. After a brief period of rest, the workers are back on the job again at 1:30 PM.

The laborers are required to work until dinnertime, which occurs at 9 PM. The period between lunch and dinner is so long that hunger complaints are frequent between these two meals. Project managers are generally dismissive, however, and stipulate that workers must continue to work after dinner.

After dinner, they work until around 1 AM before heading to bed. But because the work day begins just three hours later at 4 AM, the workers do not get enough sleep.

Workers at the Samjiyon modernization project work for 15 or more hours a day in hard labor conditions and have inadequate sleeping quarters. After being suddenly sent to the construction site, many of the inminban heads say they would rather work at forced labor camps than be dispatched to Samjiyon again.

On June 7, Daily NK reported through North Korean sources that municipal and county People’s Committee directors gathered in Pyongyang in mid-May. After returning home, local inminban heads from North Pyongan Province and Ryanggang Province were ordered to head to the Samjiyon construction site.

Construction projects underway in Samjiyon
Construction projects underway in Samjiyon. Image: Rodong Sinmun

A separate source in Ryanggang Province recently reported that problems are rife at the construction site, with frequent accidents occurring due to the site’s poor working conditions, citing a separate neighborhood watch unit head.

“One worker from Hyesan fell off a ladder at the site and died instantly,” he said. “He had not eaten enough and was tired. So it’s not surprising an accident occurred when he was forced to work at night.”

Upon hearing about the accident, other construction workers said that the government should ensure the well-being of his family as he was working on a government project, according to the source.

However, the authorities had other plans. Instead, the source reported, the heads of the shock teams sought to place blame on the victim, asking, “Why did he die? He was given the same amount of food and was doing the same work as the rest of us.” In short, they blamed the man for the accident.

“They didn’t even hold a funeral for him, and just took his body somewhere and buried it,” he said.

News of how local officials handled the accident spread among the workers, and many complained that they did not want to work because they were afraid of accidents on the job.

Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to