Sunday, January 29, 2006

Salaries in North Korea as low as $1 per month

Experts estimate 10,000 to 15,000 North Koreans are working abroad on behalf of their government in jobs ranging from nursing to construction work. North Korea has sent workers to Russia, Libya, Bulgaria, Saudi Arabia and Angola, in addition to the Czech Republic, defectors say.

With salaries at state-owned companies in North Korea as low as $1 per month, the chance to work abroad for a three-year stint is considered a privilege.

In the Czech Republic, the minimum wage is about $260 a month. Almost the entire monthly salaries of the North Korean women working in this Czech town are deposited directly in an account controlled by the North Korean government, which gives the nworkers only a fraction of the money.

To the extent that they are allowed outside in this village 20 miles west of Prague, they go only in groups. Often they are accompanied by a guard from the North Korean Embassy who is referred to as their "interpreter."

They live under strict surveillance in dormitories with photographs of North Korea's late founder Kim Il Sung and current leader Kim Jong Il gracing the walls. Their only entertainment is propaganda films and newspapers sent from North Korea, and occasional exercise in the yard outside.

[Excerpted from an article by Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times]

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