HRWF (18.09.2017) – Earlier this month, North Korea successfully tested a hydrogen bomb, the country’s sixth-ever test of a nuclear weapon, a move that was unanimously condemned by all the countries in the region and beyond. This year, Pyongyang launched long-range ballistic missiles towards the Sea of Japan on several occasions, despite the increasing sanctions of the United Nations.
North Korea’s military nuclear program would not exist as such without Pyongyang’s access to hard currencies.
One of the sources used by Kim Jong-un to collect hard currencies abroad is to send North Korean workers abroad and to confiscate 80 – 90% of their salaries. It is estimated that over 50,000 North Koreans are working in approximately 20 countries. Poland is one of them as highlighted in an extensive report of the Asian Center of the University of Leiden published last year. It is estimated that between €1.2 – 2.3 bn are collected by the North Korean regime from the exploitation of their overseas workers in the world.
Since the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, Poland – a Member State of the European Union and a participating State of the OSCE – has been second only to Russia in enabling North Korea to obtain hard currencies by issuing work permits to thousands of North Korean workers. This practice that has lasted for close to three decades must immediately stop. No North Korean laborer should any more be allowed to work in Poland. Contributing to Pyongyang’s collection of hard currencies is now more than a human rights issue; it is also an international security issue in Eastern Asia, on the borders of the OSCE space in Alaska and Eastern Siberia. Moreover, through this practice, human rights and international standards, which are at the core of the European Union, continue being disrespected, damaging the Union’s moral standing and international prestige. The respect for human dignity must prevail.
In the last few weeks, the UN security Council voted unanimously to impose strict new sanctions on Pyongyang. The new measures significantly step up restrictions on North Korea’s international trade. The new sanctions take important steps to significantly reduce North Korea’s efforts to earn hard currency and prohibit an increase in the number of overseas laborers.
Exploitation of North Korean workers in Poland
North Koreans who are sent to Polish shipyards and other worksites are subject, by their own political regime, to various forms of exploitation with the passive approval of the Polish authorities and the private companies hiring them. Examples of unlawful exploitation of these workers include:
- Work hours ranging between 12 and 16 hours a day, with only one or two days of rest a month;
- An average monthly wage of $120-150 per month, which is only 10-20% of their actual labor value in the contracts. As they are not allowed to have a bank account or to receive this money in cash, they are given a small stipend for personal use and will only collect their accumulated wages upon return to North Korea;
- Upon arrival in Poland, workers’ passports and visas are confiscated by a North Korean so-called ‘supervisor’;
- While in Poland, North Korean workers are denied freedom of movement. Every day they are transferred to and from their worksite and dormitories by bus, and are under constant surveillance by North Korean security agents; they may not have any contact with the local population, and are separated from non-North Korean workers in their workplaces.
The Polish authorities are fully aware of this situation and yet they have thus far refused to put an end to these systematic violations of the International Labour Organization standards.
Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the Polish state
- to explain the contradiction between the findings of the Asian Center of the University of Leiden which gives evidence that Poland issued again 187 new work permits to North Korean workers in 2016 and the official statement of Poland’s Delegation to the OSCE HDIM saying in 2016 that no work permit had been issued to North Koreans that year.
- to stop granting new work visas to North Korean workers.
Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the OSCE to collect data from its Participating States regarding the issuance of work visas to North Korean citizens and the status of their workplace conditions.
Human Rights Without Frontiers calls upon the European Commission to start a full investigation of the situation in Poland and then, if necessary, to move on to the next level and start an infringement procedure against Poland in line with the legal avenues at its disposal.
According to the official website of the Polish ministry in charge of the issuance of work permits 299 North Korean citizens applied for a work permit in 2016 and Poland granted one to 187 of them. These figures contradict the answer of Poland’s Delegation to the OSCE who said among other things at the HDIM of last year that
“There are no more than 550 North Korean workers in Poland. Under the existing laws, all visa applications continue to be reviewed on a case by case basis. We would like to stress that in 2016 Poland has not issued any work visas for DPRK’s nationals. In 2015 we issued only 129 such visas.”
In an electronic mail dated 19 May 2017, the Polish delegation to the OSCE wrote to HRWF that the number of North Korean workers in Poland was estimated at around 400 persons as of 1 January 2017 and no visa had been issued in 2016.
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