North Korean workers at some factories in China are not getting paid because their workplaces have shut down due to financial difficulties, Daily NK has learned. 

“Factories and businesses in Yanji, Hunchun, Tumen and Kaishantun in Jilin Province – all places that use North Korean labor – are struggling financially because of COVID-19, and some have even gone bankrupt,” a China-based source told Daily NK on May 20. “Many North Korean workers have failed to receive their wages as a result.” 

According to the source, North Korean workers at a contract manufacturing factory in the Hunchun Border Economic Cooperation Zone are currently working without pay. Citing financial difficulties, the factory owner reportedly asked the workers to work without immediate compensation.

Other factories in the development zone have also fallen into bankruptcy, leaving countless other North Korean workers without pay. 

“A factory that had employed about 150 to 200 North Korean workers recently shutdown,” a North Korean official in charge of workers in China told Daily NK. “We got a lawyer to try to get the wages owed, but gave up when it was clear we wouldn’t succeed.” 

“We asked Chinese traders to recommend other places the laborers could find work, but they said they would not be able to find a place for so many workers,” the official said. “It costs, at minimum, RMB 10 [USD 1.40] a day to pay for a single worker’s meal, but since the workers aren’t getting paid, [we] are using whatever money saved up to pay for food.” 

Another concern voiced by North Korean traders and labor managers in China is their increasing inability to pay the “loyalty fees” required by the North Korean government. 

“North Koreans are earning much less because they’re largely unable to work,” a North Korean trader active on the Sino-North Korean border told Daily NK. “How can we contribute to the loyalty fund if there’s no money? The authorities really can’t do much about [this situation], either.” 

That being said, North Korean workers in factory dormitories are “dividing themselves into teams to find any way possible to send money” back to North Korea, he added. 

North Korean workers have been forbidden by the North Korean government to return to the country until at least the end of the year as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

*Translated by Violet Kim

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

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