Firsthand account of working conditions of North Koreans in Poland

Conversations [that VICE investigators] managed to have with North Korean shipyard workers in Poland revealed they frequently work 11 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, with shorter seven hour shifts on Saturdays. [They] also observed workers being brought to a construction site in Warsaw on a bus at 5.52am and picked up after 7pm, then taken to living quarters inside a heavily guarded compound in an isolated rural area.

“We don’t receive the money personally in our hands,” said one. He was unable to tell us how much he earned per hour or per month. “We let the company look after it. When I return to [North] Korea I’ll get the money. If we carried cash, there’s a chance that we could lose it. Anyway we don’t need any money on the way to and from work. We leave it to the company, that’s safest.”

At their living quarters, four to five workers share a room with one bed each, another North Korean told us. As they are also required to work night shifts, there are usually two to three persons sleeping in the room at any time, he said.

We asked another if he was able to talk to Polish co-workers. “We simply don’t have time. We go to work and then we go back home. That’s all we do,” he said.

When asked if it was true that workers were not allowed to keep wages, and their employer kept a large proportion, he said: “Unfortunately I cannot answer that question.”

According to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea, workers abroad are deprived of the majority of their wages, which are paid in foreign currency direct to the DPRK, serving as a method of bypassing UN sanctions. “Laborers are rarely allowed to leave work sites or to come into contact with locals throughout their periods of forced labor.

Access to media is denied, communication with family members in North Korea is limited, and ideological indoctrination lessons are more pervasive than those conducted in the DPRK,” it said in a report published last September which was based on interviews with defectors.              Read more

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