North Korean laborers in Poland and Mongolia have 90 percent of their income expropriated by the regime while they face poor, isolated working conditions.
Lee Seung-ju, a researcher at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, told a press conference at the Seoul Press Center on Wednesday that North Korea’s overseas laborers in Mongolia and Poland are working under conditions that constitute “human rights violations.”
“They have no access to much information about their working state and are virtually isolated from the outside world,” said Lee.
“90 percent of their wages are ‘contributed’ to the regime. Most of projects involve subcontracted jobs, which means the laborers have to pay expenses to brokering managers again. The laborers work a part-time job to make up their living.”
While North Korea’s authoritarian government receives the “contributions” from overseas workers for the homeland’s benefit, its people suffer from not only poor working environments, but “mutual surveillance.”
Laborers in Mongolia are put into groups of 15 people as a mutual control measure, Lee said, while for housing they live in containers located at construction sites or in slums.
The workers in Poland are put into groups so that they can be “controlled in an easier manner,” even when they go to the market. Furthermore, they face competition for income from Polish laborers and those from other European countries.
North Korean laborers work from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. with no breaks while Polish workers go home at 3 p.m, Lee said, adding that the DPRK laborers also work on Polish holidays.
But despite an ongoing surge in reports on the conditions North Korean laborers endure overseas, recently published data and defector testimony suggests competition for foreign work opportunities remains high, with profits still relatively considerable even after “contributions” to the government.
In response to the problematic issue, panelists at Wednesday’s event called on South Korea’s government to raise the issue.
“The Park Geun-hye administration has stressed North Korea’s human rights improvement,” said Kim Jin-ho, a journalist with the Kyunghyang Shinmun.
“The South Korean government’s role is to address the human rights issues faced by North Korea’s overseas laborers to the international community.”
Kim Kyu-nam, a panelist from Warsaw University, also stressed the South Korean government’s role.
“The South Korean government has recently had a good relationship with Poland. On this occasion, they can ask Polish government to set up a control tower for foreign workers. It will be also helpful to raise Polish public awareness about the North Korean laborers’ situation.”
North Korea’s overseas labor population in Mongolia exceeds 1500, while the one in Poland 800, it was said at the event. The laborers are engaged in diverse fields of work, including in the fields of construction sites, shipping, agriculture, textiles and restaurants.
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