The Workers in North Korea, from ≪People in Kaesong Industrial Complex≫ ① People who do not work with money

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Here we are to introduce some stories of North Korean workers who work in Kaesong Industrial Complex, whose lives are introduced in the book ≪People in Kaesong Industrial Complex≫(the followings will be abbreviated as ≪Kaesong Complex≫). The book, published by <The book to make tomorrow>, answers to many questions on the Kaesong Complex. It contains plenty of contents that not only help solve the suspicions and misunderstandings on the Kaesong Complex but also provide the honest informations through the interviews with North Korean workers. Reading it, we can take a look at their culture, thoughts, and the ongoing changes on <work>, especially through the interviews. Moreover, We can also discover the hearty thoughts of South Koreans on North Korean workers in Kaesong Complex. Now, Let’s take a look at the life in Kaesong Complex.


Something worth more than work

What shall be the most worth value to South Korean workers? Needless to say, it is <work>. However, there is something valuable more than <work> to North Korean workers.

According to one of the corporative chiefs in Kaesong Complex, there is something more important than <work> to North Korean workers, which is “Dokbo-group colloquy” held every morning.

Then what is <Dokbo-group colloquy>? It is a meet by workers to share a lot of informative resources and to explain current issues and national policies provided by educative materials including Rodong Simmun(National news press).

“How could you say that senseless words when we work for and under the instructions of the Party(Nation)?” answered up a North Korean worker to one of the South Korean managers bawling out, “The most important thing is work!”. This kind of mind could be understood as a part of North Korean culture since everything is instructed by the Nation(the Party, Commissariat) in the society. Whole thing is considered to be a part of the nation.

ⓒKim Jin-Hyang

ⓒKim Jin-Hyang

To work precisely

In North Korea, workers work as precisely as assigned. here is a funny and interesting anecdote of how differently they consider work from that of South korea. Once, A South korean manager ordered a North Korean to clean all the trashes in the yard. Then the worker carried out <precisely> what had been ordered: to clean all the trashes in the yard except a stub.

“Why is that yard is still with trashes?” little embarrassed, South Korean manager asked him. Then the North Korean worker answered back that there was no more trashes at all and the cleaning had been done well. And so, the manager explained to him “There is still a trash of a stub in the yard and you gotta clean them all up!” Just then, the North korean worker finally told him back as follows.

“You ordered only to clean the trashes, not to pick a stub up, didn’t you?”

This seems never to be funny, let alone to happen in South Korea. However, This shows the general notion on work in Socialism society, which is to work precisely what is assigned and instructed. Perhaps, the worker conceived as another worker would be the one to pick a stub up while he himself would clean the trashes up following the instruction precisely. It surely differs from the idea of work in South Korea.

As above, If you desire to proceed the work well in North Korea, you must be precise, and specific on the instruction.

Crucial motivation: Not by the material rewards but the political-moral motives based on groupism

To enhance the productivity of North korean workers, political-moral motives must precedes material rewards above all. Furthermore, It must be heighten with <group goal> not with <individual goal>.

In other words, the collective goal of the whole workers in a company must be considered first to enhance and stabilize the productivity of the workers. Saying “Work hard and You will get rewarded (or paid)” doesn’t work in this place. They are good enough at work when the Should-do reasons and goals are specifically instructed and the importance of the work is fully informed. In addition, the productivity rises up when they attribute them to the performance of the entire workers in the company.

“The workers are not only disagreeable to the night duty or overtime work but their productivity also declines if the incentive is given as material rewards” explains Professor Kim Jin-Hyang of future strategies department of KAIST graduate school who has set up the whole project of the book.

According to Professor Kim, unlike in South Korea, there is no notion of the value exchange between money and labor in North korea. Also, neither the idea of wage nor stratified relationship of the capital-labor do exist in their mind.


In North Korean society whose social system is socialism, work is considered to be a public duty which is called as <bun-gong> in Korean language. Therefore, workers and employers are equally independent beings who do their utmost for company. For that reason, tensions become inevitable if an employer insists the mind that “I’m the one who gives you wages, and you are supposed to obey what I say”. This kind of misunderstanding with differences only leads to a conflict. Then it is suggested to understand the clash as differences by distinct ideas on work between South and North Korea.

Something opposite to the above. One day, a large quantity of appointed date material has been ordered into a plant, which was impossible to keep the due date. Only 3 days were left from the due day, and the date should be fulfilled. So the plant manager concluded that it was far beyond their capacity that he explained their workers that they needed them ordered outside, asking the workers little overtime duty. Receiving the situation, the workers told the manager not to order outside. Instead, they made him sure they would all fulfill the due date. And then, they actually did complete the whole amount of material by the date working day and night without rest for 3 days. As we can see here, North Korean workers accomplish a propose under any circumstances if they are clearly motivated.

“Most of the corporations that have made successful of their business in Kaesong Complex are those who ensure the autonomy of North Korean workers and try to understand well North Korean society. Some say the workers do perform better all the more, when they respect them. It only fails when the South executive tries to control over them.”

One corporate chief of a company in Kaesong Complex said.

“It a true lesson from Kaesong Complex through the everyday interchanges between North and South”

ⓒKim Jin-Hyang

ⓒKim Jin-Hyang

The book ≪People in Kaesong Industrial Complex≫ is written by a North Korea specialist who has devoted his life in peace matters and the relationship between North and South Korea. He actually has stayed in North Korea to gather profound understanding to the book. To follow the wish of the author, this book is aimed at gathering honest and better understanding of the society and therefore contains the hearty thoughts of the South Korean reporters who have long stayed in Kaesong Industrial Complex.

Planning and Management by Kim Jin-Hyang / Covered by Kang Seung-Hwan, Lee Yong-Goo, Kim Sae-Ra

Published in 5th June 2015 by <The book to make tomorrow> ₩15,000


Original Article: Lee Dong-Hun reporter      ⓒNK투데이
Translate: Jang Jae-Hee



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