With a housing construction project in South Hamgyong Province’s Komdok District coming to an end, production workers at the local mine are preparing to move into the new dwellings in earnest. However, the wives of some of the workers are reportedly demanding divorces.

A source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that housing for “production unit workers in Komdok” was so close to completion that people “could move in immediately,” with frameworks finished and wallpaper and flooring installed. Some people have even been issued occupancy certificates, he said.

North Korea reportedly plans to let production workers in the mine move into the new houses through the end of the year. Non-production workers, meanwhile, will be allowed to move in sometime prior to next year’s Day of the Sun, the Apr. 15 holiday marking the birthday of North Korea’s first leader, Kim Il Sung.

Next year will be the 110th anniversary of Kim’s birth.

Since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he would visit Komdok again if construction is finished by next Apr. 15, members of the military committee of South Hamgyong Province’s provincial party are continuously at the construction site to check on progress. Even the provincial party secretary in charge spends three days a week at the Komdok construction site to personally see to things.

The mine workers who have recently received occupancy certificates have reportedly begun furnishing their homes so they can move in.

Having gone to their parents’ homes due to the lack of proper housing, some of the workers’ wives have been returning to Komdok. Others, however, are demanding divorces, telling their husbands that “they will never return to Komdok, where you can’t eke out a living.”

The source said about seven out of 100 wives are asking for divorces, vowing never to go to Komdok. “The [mine] naturally learned of this statistic when they surveyed worker households as they were granting occupancy certificates, and it was put into a comprehensive report,” he said.

Komdok Mine
Photographs taken at the Komdok Mine. / Image: DPRK Today

The source said the mine believes it must resolve this problem, so it has tasked a three-person team composed of officials from the mine’s party committee, labor department and buildings department with visiting the homes of wives demanding divorces to convince them and their parents that the mine “would take full responsibility for their livelihoods.”

The source said the authorities are also using the organizations the parents are affiliated with to try and convince them to oppose divorce, including their workplace party committees, the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea, and the Socialist Women’s Union of Korea. Officials turn up at their workplaces to give the parents ideological lectures, telling them that the miners of Komdok work the Komgol Mine, which has been in operation since the days of Kim Il Sung. They say wives should take care of such miners, suggesting that if their daughters do not go to Komdok, there will be trouble.

The wives are also hinting at concern that the newly built homes could collapse at any time due to Komdok’s unstable ground.

What is more, the wives complain that since the “heads of households” are always at the mine, housekeeping and childrearing falls on the wives, but they cannot make ends meet with meager provisions. They also say they do not want to spend their lives “wandering about here and there” every time there is a natural disaster.

The source said the key complaint behind the demands for divorce is that it is hard to make ends meet in Komdok, and this is connected with poor production at the open pit mine. The mine has yet to be fully restored after collapsing in this year’s heavy rains, along with poor mineral exports due to the closure of the country’s borders.

To boost production ahead of the end-of-year review, the mine has reportedly been offering bonuses and encouraging workplace competition.

The mine plans to give up to KPW 500,000 bonuses to so-called “labor innovators” who contribute most to workplace production. The mine’s financial department has reportedly announced it would pay the bonus in KPW 5,000 cash coupons, or donpyo.

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.