North Koreans Suffer Around the World

[imText1]Even under U.N. sanctions, North Korea has a good number of sources of hard currency- one of them being exporting contract workers to various countries for wages which are then largely taken from them by the government back home.

This has been happening for a number of years; North Korean workers are to be found in, among others, Iraq, Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, not to mention the thousands who work in Russia’s Far East and Mongolia.

It is a highly sought-after work assignment for those desperate to escape their impoverished homeland, though given the restrictive and exploitative conditions involved, it might fall foul of EU law.

North Korea has dispatched dozens of construction workers to Poland, sending them to sites in several cities mainly in the northwest of the country. The total number working in Poland is currently more than fifty. They live under the strict control of Polish-speaking North Korean supervisors.

One example is to be found in Kobylnica. There are ten North Koreans working in the city at the “Flair” furniture factory. They are employed on a contract basis. Igor Mackiewicz, The CEO of the company refused to comment, only going as far as to say he doesn’t know how long the North Korean workers will work there.

In any case, the people of the city know of and appreciate them, especially for their courtesy and honesty. The owner of the guesthouse which houses the group told Daily NK that one day he dropped his wallet on the ground near his car, not far from the guesthouse. In the wallet there were about 200 Euro (350,000 Won/280 Dollars). One of the Koreans later found it and gave it back to him, with the money inside.

The North Koreans work for more than 10 hours a day. Their wages are apparently deposited into a communal bank account controlled by the North Korean government in dollars or in zlotys (Polish currency), but they don’t see much of it for the government in Pyongyang takes away the majority. More than the half their wages are deducted for the cost of food or so-called voluntary contributions.

There are many such cases. As far back as 2006 the Polish newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” covered the story of North Koreans working as welders in the Gdansk Shipyard, which was suffering a staffing crisis. They were supposed to be paid 600 Euro a month; however after deductions they were receiving only 15 Euro!

The problem in Poland, as for many of the countries where the North Koreans are to be found, is that there are no legal restrictions or minimum wages, so as long as the North Koreans have work permits there is nothing more their host government can or need do.

The only possible legal basis for contesting the situation, for some of the workers at least, is Article 1 of an “EU Council Framework Decision of 19 July 2002 on combating trafficking in human beings.”

Thus, whether or not the North Koreans wish to go overseas and work, if they are mistreated in the above ways it can still be called trafficking and is still punishable. However, it is debatable whether the North Korean workers themselves would wish for the alternative; a one-way ticket back to North Korea.

This is undoubtedly a situation repeated in every country where North Koreans work in the name of the “Dear Leader.”

Nicolas Levi is a Polish free publisher whose interests are mainly connected with the Korean Peninsula.

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