GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 193

RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR NORTH KOREAN SOCIETY
No. 193 August 2008

Productivity Hits Bottom at the 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise
Gas Leak Incident at 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise
Arguments over Trading of Scrap Metal with Food at Iron Mine in Euiju County
Production Difficulties at Bookchang Thermal Power plant due to Absentee Workers
Only Two Work Units at Danchun Magnesite Factory Are in Operation
More Than Three Quarters of Absentee Workers are Unexcused at Forestation Office in Yeonsa County

Productivity Hits Bottom at the 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise
Operation almost came to a halt at the 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province. Only carbide and gas are being produced at this point, but that too will stop within a month. The officials at the united enterprise are not doing anything about absent workers because they are unable to provide food rations for them even if they do come to work. In fact, in June the workers were given 10-day vacations. Nowadays, with a small fee of 500 wons (NK won) the absences are tolerated. Since there isn’t any work or pay even if there is work, the officials feel that the workers should be allowed to do things on their own to try and make a living.



Gas Leak Incident at 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise
On July 16, there was a gas leak from a gas tank at 2.8 Vinalon United Enterprise in Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province. Two workers at the equipment room died of suffocation from gas and four women in the preparation room fell unconscious. The police arrested the two workers, who caused the gas-leak, immediately.

Arguments over Trading of Scrap Metal with Food at Iron Mine in Euiju County
Recently, 10kg of scrap metal was traded with 1kg of ground wheat in Dukhyun iron mine in Euiju County, North Pyongan Province, and each worker received 3kg of ground wheat. However, some of the machines that were sold were still useful. This started an argument between the managers of the mine and the Support bureau and the party secretary. The party secretary claimed that useful machines that need a little bit of repair were sold for wheat. The mine manager and the Support bureau managers fiercely defended their actions saying, “It is easy for you to say that because you are in the comfortable position of supervising in the back. Hasn’t it been already too long since we were able to give out food rations? Can’t you see the workers suffering from lack of food?” In the mean time, the factory police arrested the scrap metal traders from Sinuiju, and confiscated all the scrap metal and ground wheat. Because taking the parts of good machines to trade with wheat is illegal, all perpetrators caught will be dealt with to the full extent of the law.

Production Difficulties at Bookchang Thermal Power plant due to Absentee Workers
Heavy absenteeism at the Bookchang County thermal power plant in South Pyongan Province is starting to affect daily production. About 80% of its workers are not from the local area, so discharged soldiers in good physical conditions have been placed here. There is no assistance from the Bookchang County party, which is the local party. They do not have a subsidiary business either. Therefore, no help is available locally when they are out of food. Many workers left for other regions to get help from their hometown or from relatives when food ran out due to severe food shortage this year. As more and more people leave the area for similar reasons, the party secretary and the manager declared this time that they would prosecute those who fail to show up to work unexcused for more than two months. Not giving a second thought to the announcement, the workers are still refusing to come out of their house asking, “Why do they want to force us to stay when it only makes us suffer?” Many other workers simply took their entire families left to go back to their hometowns to live with their parents.

When those families arrive at their hometown, the local registration office advises them to return to the Bookchang thermal power plant region where they are registered residents, but this request simply goes in one ear and out the other. No matter how difficult it is to deal with the harassment, they have a better chance for survival staying in their hometown where they have some land available for farming. The power plant officials are also trying to bring the workers back with harassment and threats, but the workers are standing firm in their disposition. The Bookchang thermal power plant has the reputation of ‘the largest thermal power plant in the republic.’ However, the workers’ morale is so low the reputation has lost its meaning.

Only Two Work Units at Danchun Magnesite Factory Are in Operation
Currently, there are only two work units in operation at the Danchun magnesite factory in Danchun, South Hamgyong Province. Workers in non-operating units are not even showing up to work anymore because one, there is no work to be done and two, because they know that there is no pay to be earned whether they work or not. Those workers must try to make ends meet by working odd jobs like loading and unloading freights for private home construction companies. If these types of jobs are not even available, the foremans at the non-operational work units tell the workers to pay 400 won and take a vacation day. The money collected in this way is used to purchase more material for the factory. In May and June, many workers stayed home from work due to the famine and many missed meals. Thanks to newly harvested grain from private farms, that phase has passed. Today everyone is at least able to eat 2 meals of porridge.

More Than Three Quarters of Absentee Workers are Unexcused at Forestation Office in Yeonsa County
There are 42 employees at Forestation office (조림사업소) in Yeonsa County of North Hamgyong Province including the party secretary and the officials. Ever since the intense food shortage this year only about 7-8 workers showed up to work on average for the past few months with only a hand full of days when more than 10 workers were present. More than thirty people are already out to look for other means of sustenance such as lot farming or starting a small business. The office manager and the party secretary are visiting the workers and threatening to either fire them or send them to training centers if they do not show up to work, but these threats are going unheeded. And now due to a recent announcement from the central party that the Forestation Division Chief will be visiting the area for an inspection the harassment has turned to pleadings. The party secretary and the office manager are often found visiting homes of former workers in the middle of the night to beg them to show up to work.

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