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The dark side of N. Korea’s efforts to speedily complete housing projects

North Korea is accelerating its housing construction projects by forcing people to work long hours of intensive labor. The emphasis on speed has led to various incidents and accidents in which people assigned to construction sites either abandon their jobs or suffer serious injuries.

“A 19-year-old soldier of a construction unit mobilized to build houses in Pyongyang’s Hwasong area recently deserted for a week and robbed houses in several districts of the city before being caught,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The soldier was sent to a military forced labor camp after a public struggle at the construction site on Mar. 16.”

According to the source, the soldier deserted because he was given little food – and poor quality food at that – for the long hours of intensive labor.

Soldiers and civilians working at the Hwasong construction site are supposed to work 10 hours a day, from 7 AM to 6 PM, with a one-hour lunch break. In reality, however, they are forced to work 12 hours a day, often with two hours of overtime after dinner.

They work Monday through Saturday, with Sunday off. However, most work on Sunday under the pretext of engaging in “patriotic struggle,” with small teams going to housing projects to finish unfinished work or make preparations for upcoming work, the source said.

This means that workers toil for over 72 hours in a six-day work week and work on Sunday, their only day off, meaning they essentially work the entire week. Given the poor food provided, soldiers and civilians deployed on the construction side reportedly say they wish the authorities would “at least make sure we have something to eat if we’re going to work like this.”

The International Labor Organization recommends that workers work no more than eight hours a day and an average of 48 hours a week for three weeks, as long hours can cause physical and psychological harm.

Workers are poorly paid and face unsafe work environments

In addition, soldiers and civilians working at the Hwasong construction site are not receiving proper wages.

“Laborers, office workers and soldiers all receive the salaries they received from their existing workplaces or military units,” the source said. “They don’t receive more or different compensation just because they are doing harder work. It all falls under the name of patriotic work for the state.”

The authorities are also failing to provide proper safety training at the Hwasong construction site.

“The regulations call for safety training once a week, but most of the time it’s just a formality,” the source said.

In January, while authorities were rushing housing projects to move up a completion ceremony – to be attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – and another ceremony to mark the start of the next phase of construction, a member of a North Pyongan Province work brigade fell off a building and was paralyzed from the waist down.

“They sent him back to his hometown without hospitalization after four days of emergency care,” the source said. “This became an issue after his wife complained to the North Pyongan Province Party Committee and the committee’s political department of his work brigade when the Central Committee, the province, his original agency and the work brigade to which he was attached ignored his case.”

He added: “There is no separate compensation system for accidents at housing projects. The workplace should pay compensation, but this doesn’t happen.”

Translated by David Black. Edited by Robert Lauler. 

Daily NK works with a network of sources living in North Korea, China, and elsewhere. Their identities remain anonymous for security reasons. For more information about Daily NK’s network of reporting partners and information-gathering activities, please visit our FAQ page here.

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

Read in Korean

March 22, 2024 at 07:00AM

by DailyNK(North Korean Media)

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