china factory confined workers china return
A factory in the Chinese city of Hunchun, Jilin Province, that reportedly employs North Korean workers. (Daily NK)

North Korean workers in China are having a tough time purchasing food due to lockdowns of Chinese cities amid rising cases of COVID-19. With food prices in China skyrocketing, the food situation for North Korean laborers may not improve even when the lockdowns are lifted.

According to a Daily NK source in China on Monday, North Korean workers at factories in the country have remained in their dormitories since their plants were shut down following regional COVID-19 lockdowns.

Cadres managing the workers have been making sure the workers keep their dormitory doors shut unless they have special duties to perform, the source added. 

The workers are particularly stressed out because of challenges in acquiring food. North Korean workers in many dormitories have been waiting around nervously, unable to purchase food with the implementation of bans on movement. 

Liaoning Province’s city of Dandong, home to many North Korean laborers, was put under lockdown on Apr. 25. Cadres who collectively manage the workers in the city should have procured food purchased in bulk through a Chinese shopping strategy called “group buying.” The cadres were apparently unaware that they needed to have done this and consequently had a tough time procuring supplies, the source said. 

Now, the cadres are now experiencing no particular problems procuring supplies, having picked up on the “group buying” method; however, workers are still receiving an insufficient amount of food due to rising food prices in China.

According to the source, a kilogram of eggs cost RMB 20 in Dandong as of May 2, more than triple the price of RMB 6 prior to the lockdown. One RMB equaled around 15 cents as of May 10. 

Vegetable prices have spiked even more dramatically. Prior to the lockdown, you could buy a head of cabbage for RMB 2. As of May 2, it had climbed to RMB 50, a 25-fold increase.

With vegetable prices spiking even more than rice or meat prices, dormitories with North Korean workers have greatly reduced their purchases of vegetables.

Workers are complaining that before, when vegetables were cheap, they could fill their bellies solely with vegetable side dishes. Now, however, they eat only rice because vegetables are too expensive.

Despite the food problems facing North Korean workers in China, the North Korean embassy in the country has failed to provide any support, according to the source. 

Embassy officials have simply ordered daily temperature checks for workers, saying they are vulnerable to communicable diseases due to their communal living environment, and demanded that workers follow requests from the Chinese authorities. After the Chinese government recently demanded RNA testing, North Korean workers were subject to a mass testing.

The problem is that with Chinese factories shutting down, North Korean workers are facing a cut in their monthly wages. 

The source said cadres who manage the workers complain of stress because they must send North Korean authorities a set quota of “loyalty funds,” even if worker incomes fall.

Interestingly, many North Korean workers are welcoming the factory shutdowns. While they previously had to perform backbreaking work every day, they now have some time to relax.

Many workers say they had to work 10 to 12 hours a day all month for less than RMB 500 in the past, so it is for the best that they can now rest due to COVID-19, even if it is also a bit frustrating, the source said. 

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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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.