Women Leaving Low Paying Trade Co. Jobs

Neungna 88 Trading Company, located in Suncheon, South
Pyongan Province, has been a popular workplace for women, offering jobs in
clothes manufacturing. It is one of the companies tasked with earning foreign
currency for the North, but recently, with the wages standing at a mere 10th of those earned by individually employed workers, more people are leaving their posts, the Daily
NK has learned.

“Workers employed by breweries or bakeries receive roughly
200,000 KPW a month,” a source in South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK
on Tuesday. “But at Neungna 88, workers on the clothing line only make 20,000
KPW even though they work in unsatisfactory environments.”

The trade company falls under the Chosun Workers’ Party’s
Finance and Accounting Department and exports to China everything from coal and
iron ore to medicine, alcohol, clothing, and health supplements, earning back
foreign currency. The profits are offered up to the Department or are used to
procure holiday gifts for Party cadres under Kim Jong Eun’s name.

Neungna 88 in Suncheon is a branch of the headquarters in
Pyongyang, and focuses on exporting clothes in collaboration with China, meaning the company brings in the yarn, fabric, and designs from China, and then
exports the final products back. It also runs a restaurant serving pizza to procure additional funds. Increasing foreign food availability is the
latest method employed by these foreign-currency organizations to encourage
resident spending, encouraged by the increased demand. For foreign
currency-earning enterprises to extend their activities domestically is
indicative of the increasing purchasing power of the middle-class.

“If you get to Daedong River in Sunchon, you’ll see a big
sign on a three-story building that reads Neungna 88 Trading Company,” the
source explained. “The first floor is a pizza place, and on the second and
third stories, there are some 150 women making clothes.”

Their monthly wages are 20,000 KPW [2.3 USD], which is
almost seven times higher than other state-run companies, but the lowest among
trading companies.There are no standards as to how much these trading companies
have to pay their employees, and each company decides based on the profits and
amount of work allocated.

Unlike men, it is very rare for women in their teens or 20s
to work for a trading company. Despite this fact, some women work on garment
manufacturing lines because of the regular food rations and extra benefits
offered on national holidays, regardless of the low wages.

However, recently more people have been quitting their jobs,
as those who are hired by private businesses are able to receive up to a
ten-fold increase in wages and work in a more pleasant environment, the source
explained. This portends a growing number of women who are seeking more
than a low wage with rations and instead looking for better employment

With this trend, the company has been trying to hire more
women with experience at state-run apparel factories, but not many are willing
to due to the low salary. “Because of this, unless Neungna 88 raises its wages it will create obstacles for exports, not only due to technical difficulties, but
also low morale,” she concluded.