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Polish Watchdog: North Korean Workers Exposed to Unsafe Conditions 

  • Eunjung Cho

Laborers work at a construction site in Warsaw, Nov. 5, 2014.

Laborers work at a construction site in Warsaw, Nov. 5, 2014.

More than 400 North Korean laborers in Poland are vulnerable to suffering work injuries as they perform hazardous tasks without necessary security measures and protective gear, Poland’s labor-protection watchdog said.

Fifteen inspections, which uncovered multiple violations of Polish labor laws, were conducted this year at companies known to hire North Korean laborers, the Chief Labor Inspectorate’s Legality of Employment Department said.

Among the violations were the lack of protection in workplaces against potential dangers, such as falling objects and mechanical damage, use of artificial lighting in workplaces, little access to protective equipment and garments, and a dearth of warning signs at construction sites.

“Individuals responsible for committing a contravention were given penalty notices or motions for penalty were lodged with the court,” Jaroslaw Leśniewski, of the labor inspectorate, said in an emailto VOA Thursday.

New revelations

Also listed in the letter were irregularities committed by employment agencies or companies, which included failure to provide clear information on work hours and employment conditions, nonpayment of overtime wages and delayed registration of social insurance.

Leśniewski said improvement notices were issued after the inspections, and entities liable for having such irregularities were ordered to eliminate them.

The inspections, which were conducted by the National Labor Inspectorate, an authority tasked with overseeing and inspecting employment conditions of foreign workers, however, did not identify any case of illegal employment as well as forced labor or human trafficking involving North Korean citizens.

Leśniewski said the working conditions of North Korean workers continue to be an important aspect of the inspections. The Polish official added that the authorities are planning to launch new inspections targeting possible violations by foreign employers, including North Korean entities, by the end of the year.

For many years, Poland has been facing criticisms from human rights advocacy groups, which claim that North Korean workers in Poland are toiling in forced labor conditions at construction sites, shipyards and farms without proper remuneration.

Human rights concern

The Polish Foreign Ministry told VOA earlier this month that it did not issue any work visas for North Korean citizens this year. In 2015, 156 such visas and 482 work permits were issued.

As of September, the number of North Koreans employed in Poland is estimated to be 550, according to a report released by Human Rights Without Frontiers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to curbing the exploitation of foreign workers.

With North Korea accelerating its development of nuclear and missile programs, the international community has been stepping up its pressure on the reclusive regime with various sets of sanctions.

In March, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order, which allowed the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze assets of any party that may have been involved in exportation of North Korean laborers — one of Pyongyang’s cash generators, which is known to bring as much as $2.3 billion a year.

Lee Jee-eun contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with VOA Korean Service.

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