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Pullout of Kaesong Workers Possible, North Korea Says

FILE - North Korean workers assemble jackets at a factory of a South Korean-owned company at the jointly run Kaesong Industrial Complex in Kaesong, North Korea, Dec. 19, 2013.

North Korea has suggested that it may withdraw its workers from the Kaesong Industrial Complex over a wage dispute, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Thursday.

North and South Korea have been at odds over the monthly minimum wage for the North Korean workers. In an apparent attempt to press the South over the issue, a spokesman for the Central Special Development Guidance Bureau, the North Korean body in charge of running the complex, said Wednesday that Pyongyang could pull its workers from the complex if the wage dispute was not settled.

The spokesman said that the inter-Korean complex is run by the communist country and South Korean businessmen and that the South Korean government should not intervene.

The South Korean ministry criticized the statement, warning that the North “should be responsible for any problems created by its unilateral actions.”

Lim Byeong-cheol, spokesman for the ministry, told reporters that some factories were experiencing low productivity because the workers were slowing down work or refusing to work overtime.

“There have been such threats before, but it appears some workers have begun carrying out the threats,” Lim said.

Lim called on the North to come to the negotiating table, saying the South Korean government would continue efforts to resolve the issue.

Representatives of the South Korean firms plan to visit the complex Friday to meet with North Korean officials.

Last November, North Korea unilaterally decided there should be an increase in the monthly minimum wage for its workers at Kaesong. In February, the North notified the South of its decision to raise the wage from $70.35 to $74 starting in March. Seoul rejected the demand, accusing Pyongyang of breaching an inter-Korean agreement on the complex. The agreement calls for a decision on wage increases to be made through mutual agreement.

In April 2013, the North pulled all of its 53,000 workers from the complex over political disputes with the South, creating a temporary shutdown of the park.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report.