Wednesday, August 24, 2005

New zones of hope and discontent?

Interesting story in today's (Aug 25th) Joongang Ilbo about workplace accidents at the inter-Korean industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea. The complex is a joint project between North and South Korea and as of July employed about 2400 North Koreans.

The report by the ministry of unification described a string of incidents beginning in late October when a North Korean construction worker fell to his death. The article reports that "further industrial accidents occurred this year. In January, four people were injured in separate accidents. Three among them lost fingers. In June, a worker suffered a burn, and the accidents have continued. The ministry said 10 accidents have occurred so far, including the deadly fall of last year."

The ministry goes on to cite a lack of safety awareness among North Korean workers using South Korean machinery. Also interesting is the fact that because North Korean workers are paying social welfare insurance to North Korea, worth about 15 percent of their wages; South Korea is not providing a separate compensation to these workers.

I'm curious how this issue will continue to evolve. On the one hand, the new complex up in Kaesong has been lauded by many to be an positive step of engagement between the South and the North, perhaps leading the North towards a reform trajectory similiar to China's. However there is the issue of the exploitation of a cheap and captive labour force without proper compensation -- does anyone even know if North Korea has an operating worker's compensation system? Basically, I'm curious, and perhaps sceptical as to how services will be provided to these workers.

It will be interesting how South Korean unions begin to respond to developments in this new zone, whether or not they will be able to influence the rights of workers there or not. How North Korean workers respond when problems arise will also be of note. I imagine tight tabs are probably kept on some of these workers, but as with any transnational space, there is the chance for greater information flow between workers from both countries (see our earlier post with a link concerning the possible marriage of two workers in the zone at Kaesong or this story about the potential for increased tourism in the area), although it will probably appear in Korean before it appears in English, so if any of you, our dear readers, see anything please let us know. For our part, we'll try to keep up on the info as well.


  1. Here's a link to an older but related story from the freekorea blog. Some interesting links.

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