in Seoul’s Yeouido neighborhood. (by Tak Ki-hyoung
Kaesong Industrial Complex tenant companies reached an agreement not to accept North Korea’s unilateral demands to increase wages. Instead, they agreed to provide the North Korean authorities with a letter of guarantee to pay the difference in the wages once North and South Korean negotiators reach an agreement.
During a general meeting of the Corporate Association of Gaeseong Industrial Complex (CAGIC) on May 18, with about 90 tenant companies attending, a group of company chairs approved a letter of guarantee they had proposed providing to the North Korean Bureau of Central Special District Development
On May 15, the association chairs visited Kaesong to meet Park Chol-su, deputy chief of the bureau, and offered to write a letter of guarantee. The letter would state that the companies refuse to accept North Korea’s request to raise wages but promise to retroactively pay the difference in the wages and the late fees according to the agreement that North and South Korean authorities eventually reach.
On Apr. 20, the deadline for paying the wages for March, the North Korean bureau had asked the South Korean tenant companies to sign a letter of guarantee in which they would effectively acknowledge the wage increase on which it had unilaterally decided and agree to pay the ensuing late fees. Reportedly, five companies agreed to this demand.
In order to prevent South Korean companies from giving in to North Korea’s demands for raising wages, the South Korean government asked them to first deposit workers’ wages with the South Korean management committee, which would then forward the payment to the North Korean bureau.
The government is putting pressure on tenant companies, threatening that it will not extend the loan repayment schedule for companies that do not obey these instructions. Tenant companies were loaned emergency operating funds when the complex temporarily shut down in 2013.
“During a meeting with the group of company chairs on May 17, the Unification Minister said that, if we can show that the companies are not agreeing to North Korea’s demand to raise the wages, the Ministry might not predicate extending the loan repayment schedule on depositing workers’ wages with the management committee,” CAGIC Chairman Chung Ki-sup told reporters after the general meeting on Monday.
“In order to comply with this, we reached an agreement in the general meeting today to pay North Korea the April wages according to the February rates, before North Korea had asked for a wage increase.”
This past February, North Korea notified South Korea that it would be unilaterally increasing the minimum wage of North Korean workers at the Kaesong complex by 5.18% from US$70.35 to US$74 a month beginning with the March wages.
49 of the 125 tenant companies had paid the wages to North Korea as of May 8. The South Korean government is currently investigating to see whether these companies used double bookkeeping to pay their wages at the level North Korea demanded.
The South Korean government has insisted on raising the minimum wage no more than 5% through deliberations between North and South, as the labor regulations stipulated before North Korea unilaterally revised them.
On May 15, the South Korean government sent a message to North Korea through the secretariat of the Inter-Korean Joint Committee on the Kaesong Complex proposing that the committee hold its sixth meeting on May 20, but North Korea again refused to receive the message.
The joint committee was set up after operations at the complex were suspended for five months in 2013 in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a shutdown. The committee is supposed to convene every quarter, but last year, only one meeting was held.
By Kim Ji-hoon, staff reporter
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