The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 6, 2013

Made in Korea: Rare look at jointly run factories

(Continued)

The average Kaesong worker makes more than $110 a month, said Pak, the North Korean official. Trainees make less, but an “incentive-based” system allows workers to earn as much as $150 a month, he said.

“With overtime, they can earn bonuses,” Pak said, speaking to AP in September in a conference room with portraits of Kim Jong Il and North Korean founder Kim Il Sung hanging behind him. Discussion of bonuses and incentives has been associated with a directive from current leader Kim Jong Un, son of Kim Jong Il and grandson of Kim Il Sung.

At clothing maker ShinWon’s three gleaming, futuristic buildings, the toilets are South Korean and the sewing machines are Japanese. Even the pantry is stocked with South Korean snacks.

Workers are dressed in blue bonnets and in uniforms with “ShinWon” stitched in English on the spot where they’d normally wear a loyalty pin bearing their leaders’ portraits.

At one cutting table, a South Korean manager confers quietly with two North Korean women about a design. The women nod in agreement. A sign taped up on a wall says “Accuracy” in Korean.

ShinWon President Hwang Woo-seung said that although Kaesong’s tax regulations and other rules can be complicated, it’s worth it to be able to employ North Korean workers.

“First of all, we speak the same language,” he said in Kaesong in September. “And secondly, they’re very skilled with their hands.”

On Saturday, ShinWon said its 15 South Korean managers were staying in Kaesong. The company has enough raw materials to last through early May but will soon run out of gas, fuel and food if the entry ban continues, a spokesman said Saturday.

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The complex is about more than money, said Cho Dong-ho, a North Korea expert at Ewha Womans University in Seoul: “It is a string that links the two Koreas.”

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