With China experiencing acute power shortages, factories employing North Korean workers are also suffering blackouts. Laborers are unable to work when this happens, but a source says some workers welcome the situation.

In a phone conversation with Daily NK on Friday, a source in China said that there was a blackout early this month at a factory in Jilin Province, where there are thousands of North Korean workers. “They couldn’t work because there was no power for about two days,” he said.

China has recently contended with serious power shortages due to insufficient coal supplies to its power stations. This is leading to blackouts and factory stoppages, with companies taking major hits.

In particular, China’s Three Northeastern Provinces — Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang — are suffering significant losses.

If factories shut down due to blackouts, workers receive no wages as they cannot work. Nevertheless, North Korean laborers reportedly welcome the shutdowns.

The source said North Korean laborers take home just RMB 50 (about USD 8) after a month’s work, so some believe not working is better.

china factory confined workers china return
A factory in the Chinese city of Hunchun, Jilin Province, that reportedly employees North Korean workers. / Image: Daily NK

According to the source, one North Korean worker said he used to work hard through the night, but now he could rest comfortably due to the blackouts. “I hope the blackouts continue and I work just one week a month,” the worker reportedly said. 

Relatedly, Daily NK has reported that North Korean authorities extort about 98% of the monthly wages of North Korean workers in China as “loyalty funds.” 

However, the laborers have been suffering shifts of over 16 hours a day, as well as murderously intensive work.

Because of this, North Korean workers — who have been working practically for free — welcome the rest due to the blackouts.

The source said most factories in the area have experienced blackouts, and it remains uncertain whether operations have restarted.

UN Security Council Resolution 2397, adopted in December 2017, called for the repatriation of all North Korean workers abroad by December 2019.

However, North Korean authorities have not been repatriating workers since closing the nation’s borders in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nor has China been actively seeking to repatriate North Korean workers in the country. North Korean workers receive short-term and student visas rather than work visas. Accordingly, Chinese authorities reportedly claim they are not subject to repatriation.

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

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.