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Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06PRAGUE1400
2006-11-09 12:23:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Prague
Cable title:  

NORTH KOREAN LABORERS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

Tags:   PREL  PHUM  KN  EZ 
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VZCZCXYZ0000
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHPG #1400/01 3131223
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 091223Z NOV 06
FM AMEMBASSY PRAGUE
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8221
INFO RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW PRIORITY 0712
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING PRIORITY 0568
RUEHBM/AMEMBASSY BUCHAREST PRIORITY 7252
RUEHWR/AMEMBASSY WARSAW PRIORITY 3220
RUEHSF/AMEMBASSY SOFIA PRIORITY 0492
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL PRIORITY 0305
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 0202
RUEHUM/AMEMBASSY ULAANBAATAR PRIORITY 0003
RUEHSH/AMCONSUL SHENYANG PRIORITY 0003
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
						C O N F I D E N T I A L PRAGUE 001400 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

G/TIP PASS TO MEGAN HALL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/08/2016
TAGS: PREL PHUM KN EZ
SUBJECT: NORTH KOREAN LABORERS IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC

REF: A) PRAGUE 1319 B) PRAGUE 420 C) PRAGUE 307 D)
PRAGUE 266 E) PRAGUE 261

Classified By: Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Mike Dodman for reasons 1
.4
b+d

-------
Summary
-------


1. (C) Currently, 408 North Korean laborers (almost
exclusively female) are working in numerous factories
throughout the Czech Republic. A Czech government taskforce
of seven government agencies and an NGO conducts regular
joint inspections into the work conditions of the DPRK
workers. These random inspections continue to show that work
conditions are within the confines of Czech law and that,
while the GOCR finds the situation troubling, they have no
basis to end the program. NGOs state that while they do not
like the situation, the North Koreans do not fit the
definition of trafficking or forced labor. Post's visit to
one factory that employs North Koreans, as well as
discussions with numerous observers, indicates no physical
restriction of movement for the North Koreans. The Ministry
of Foreign Affairs continues to view the situation as a
political issue and has taken the lead in reaching an
interministerial agreement that no new visas will be issued
to DPRK workers. However, while in the absence of any legal
basis the MFA will not be able to maintain this stance
indefinitely, senior officials expect that the program can
and should be slowly wound down over time in a manner
consistent with broader Czech foreign policy interests. End
Summary.



2. (SBU) To discuss the issue of workers from the DPRK, the
Embassy conducted a dozen meetings during the month of
October with the national police, NGOs, journalists and Czech
government officials, including multiple meetings with the
Ministry of Interior (MoI), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
and Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MoLSA). Visiting
G/TIP officer Megan Hall attended some of these meetings.
PolEcon Counselor met with Dr. Petr Simerka, Deputy Minister
of Labor and Social Affairs; Mr. Rudolf Hahn, Inspector
General of the State Labor Inspection Office; Mr. Jan Bucki,
Head of the Employment Services Administration at MoLSA and
Mr. Roman Kidles, Head of the International Relations
Department at MoLSA; and the DCM met with the Deputy Foreign
Minister to discuss the issue of North Korean workers.



--------------------------


Ministry of Labor Paying Close Attention to
North Korean Worker Situation


--------------------------




3. (C) During a meeting on October 18, Deputy Minister of
Labor Simerka highlighted to PolEcon Counselor the fact that
nationals from many countries legally work in the Czech
Republic, and that the 408 North Korean workers employed as
seamstresses in textile factories, bakers, manual laborers
and in leather factories represent an extremely small
fraction of foreign workers in the Czech Republic. He said

the main difficulty with the current situation with workers
from the DPRK arises from the fact that the laborers claim to
be very satisfied with their work and that work conditions
are in line with Czech regulations. He noted that the
biggest question concerning the workers relates to their
personal freedom outside of their work environment. When
asked about information that the workers, salaries are
deposited into one joint account, Simerka explained that once
workers are paid by their employers it is entirely up to them
what they do with their money. He emphasized that the North
Korean workers are paid Czech market wages.



4. (C) Deputy Minister Simerka noted that procedures are in
place so that if one of the workers desires asylum, she would
be allowed to remain in the Czech Republic. He promised that
labor inspectors would continue to regularly inspect
factories where DPRK workers are present and will pay special
attention to their work conditions. He stated that he is
willing at any time to meet again on the issue and promised
to proactively contact the Embassy if any additional
information on the situation is forthcoming. Deputy Minister
Simerka made great efforts to address each concern raised by
PolEcon Counselor and was extremely open with information
including passing on a list of all the factories and cities
where North Koreans are employed, the number of North Koreans
in each factory, and the work they are doing (see para 20).



5. (C) Deputy Minister Simerka also noted the positive
impact that former workers from North Korea in the Czech
Republic could bring to their home country. Simerka stated
that he hoped that exposure to Western lifestyle and markets
full of fresh produce would show the North Koreans what they
are missing under their current regime. He also noted that
the workers, lives were most certainly better here in the
Czech Republic than back in North Korea. He expressed hope
that their exposure to the West could help in combating the
common belief in the DPRK that all Westerners are evil &and
eat their young.8 Simerka highlighted that as victims of a
repressive Communist regime, Czechs had some appreciation for
the North Koreans plight and the importance of exposure to
the West, however limited. Officials from the MFA, Ministry
of Interior and NGOs also made similar comments.



6. (C) Labor Inspector General Hahn stated that from his
personal point of view it would be best for the workers to
return to North Korea given the special attention and the
added number of inspections his office is expected to
conduct. He noted that his office has paid special attention
to the situation of DPRK workers and that their employers
know that they are under the microscope and as a result
rigorously adhere to the law. Hahn stated that he found
media reports that the workers are not allowed to watch TV or
listen to the radio disturbing but that these issues were
outside of the legal mandate that labor inspectors have to
investigate. Hahn said that if labor inspectors proved that
any of the workers or government minders were exerting
pressure against any of the individual workers, MoLSA would
instruct the local labor office to cancel the labor permit of
the individual exerting this pressure. He also stated that
it was frustrating that the individual workers refused to
talk with inspectors one-on-one without other coworkers
present, usually the designated North Korean translator.
Even in one-on-one situations where a Czech-provided Korean
translator was present, the workers would not talk with
inspectors.



7. (C) Inspector General Hahn also relayed that the MoLSA
had earlier this year conducted a thorough investigation into
the work contracts and factory conditions at the request of
the Czech Ambassador to South Korea. In May, the Czech
Ambassador sent a report to the MFA and MoLSA requesting
further investigation into the work conditions of the North
Korean laborers based on interviews with &Kim Tae-san8
published in the South Korean press. A former North Korean,
Mr. Kim claimed asylum in the Czech Republic in 2002 after
serving as President of a North Korean-Czech trade
association from July 2000. Kim claimed that North Korean
workers in the Czech Republic were &slave laborers8 and
that the workers, salaries are garnished by the DPRK
government. The Ambassador's report details a number of
claims made by Kim in the South Korean press and asks the
Czech government to investigate. The report concludes with
the recommendation that the existing program that allows for
North Korean workers in the Czech Republic should only be
continued if the Czech government or NGOs can determine that
the personal freedom of the North Korean workers is not being
infringed upon. (Note: Kim's allegations have received wide
circulation in the Czech and international press. End Note.)




8. (C) Hahn provided PolEcon Counselor with a copy of both
this report from the Czech Embassy in Seoul and his response.
Inspector General Hahn's response dated May 31, detailed
the recent six investigations his office had conducted. The
report notes that the inspections found some minor violations
of Czech regulations, such as the fact that employees were
not always notified of their rights to vacation and for
breaks throughout the work day. Another mistake was that
some employers failed to revise work contracts when schedules
changed. Hahn noted that such errors were largely
administrative and common among Czech employers. In his
report, Hahn welcomed any further information that the
Embassy in Seoul possessed and also expressed an interest for
the North Korean defector to testify in the Czech Republic so
that the authorities could take actions on Kim's allegations.



--------------------------


Contracts


--------------------------




9. (C) Responding to specific questions regarding how the
North Koreans are employed at the various factories, Jan
Bucki, Head of the Employment Services Administration at
MoLSA, told us that there are two types of work contracts
with the North Korean laborers, the most common of which is a
group contract between a Czech labor broker agency and a
Czech firm for a specific number of North Korean workers.
The North Koreans then receive work permits that allow them
to work for the Czech firm. There are currently 285 North
Korean workers employed at eight Czech companies with group
work contracts through two Czech labor broker agencies, CLA
Agency and M Plus. These contracts do not name the specific
individuals that the labor brokers will provide for
employment but do list the number of workers. CLA Agency and
M Plus have applied for and received authorization from MoLSA
to act as labor brokers. Bucki noted that this type of work
contract is commonplace in the Czech Republic. The second
legal arrangement used for DPRK workers is direct contracts
between individual North Koreans and their employers. There
are 123 North Koreans working at seven Czech companies that
have direct contracts. Previously, a small number of North
Koreans had work contracts directly with their labor broker
and were employed by them and subcontracted out to other
firms. Up until October 31, the 17 North Koreans working at
Alfatex Fashion (see para 20) were direct employees of CLA
Agency and not Alfatex Fashion. Starting November 1, these
employees have a group contract with Alfatex Fashion through
CLA Agency.



--------------------------


Inspections Task Force


--------------------------




10. (C) The Czech government has created a special task
force to monitor and investigate the North Korean factories.
Seven government agencies are on the task force: the
organized crime unit of the National Police, Foreigners
Police, local employment offices, Customs Office, Ministry of
Interior, Financial Police, and labor inspectors. In
addition, the International Organization for Migration (IOM)
is part of the task force. These organizations conduct joint
inspections into the working conditions of the North Korean
workers. Members of the task force joked that the task force
represents an eight-armed octopus and that during some
inspections the number of inspectors outnumbered the DPRK
workers. The most recent inspection took place at a bakery
located in Beroun in mid-October. Once again, the government
found that all working conditions were in line with Czech
law. The main area of concern of the task force remains the
joint bank account where all the North Korean workers pay is
apparently deposited. The agencies involved note that under
Czech law they have little authority to investigate the bank
account unless they have proof of violations of the law.



--------------------------


NGOs: DPRK Workers Not Trafficking Victims


--------------------------




11. (C) We have discussed the North Korean workers,
situation in several recent meetings with two NGOs involved
in trafficking (IOM and La Strada). They describe the
situation as something other than trafficking in persons.
The NGOs stated that there was no evidence that traditionally
defined trafficking or forced labor is occurring,
specifically noting that the workers, movement is not
restricted and that working conditions are good. IOM noted
that the workers, when pointedly asked by inspectors about
their salaries, responded with typical North Korean
platitudes like &I earn what I deserve.8 IOM specifically
mentioned its gratitude for the government's diligence in
investigating the issue and allowing them to accompany on
inspections of the factories.



--------------------------


Visits to North Korean Factories


--------------------------




12. (C) In mid-October, Poloff accompanied G/TIP officer
Megan Hall to observe the conditions around one of the
factories employing North Koreans outside of Prague. The
textile factory is located on the premises of an old school
and specializes in making work clothes. The small factory is
in a residential area, across the street from a Catholic
church and backs up to a sports field previously used by the
school. Poloff and Hall walked around the perimeter and
could see a number of Asian workers working alongside
Caucasian individuals inside the factory. The small factory
seemed very open and the fence surrounding the property was
dilapidated and had collapsed in a number of places. Poloff
spoke with neighbors across the street from the factory, who
confirmed that both Ukrainians and Asians worked together on
the premises and that they frequently saw the Asian workers
in the neighborhood grocery stores buying food and walking
around the small community.



13. (C) Poloff also spoke with a western journalist resident
in Prague who had recently visited a textile factory in
Nachod that employs a substantial number of North Korean
workers. She said that she had been granted significant
access to the property by the factory owner and was allowed
to speak to the North Korean workers. She said that she
observed the conditions before attempting to talk to the
workers and that she saw a number of the North Koreans
laughing amongst themselves and with their Ukrainian
coworkers as they sewed. The journalist stated that the
North Koreans did not respond to her questions, but that when
she spoke to their Ukrainian coworkers they told her the
North Koreans had a strong mastery of the Czech language and
seemed happy to be living and working in the Czech Republic.
The journalist asserted that the working conditions for the
workers seemed quite good and met or exceeded Czech
standards. The journalist also stated that while her visit
to the factory did not seem to cause any controversy, she
sent a photographer later to the same factory and that within
15 minutes the North Korean Embassy was on the phone to the
factory owner demanding that the photographer leave the
premises.



14. (C) Poloff also spoke with residents of Beroun who said
they had seen North Koreans registering at the local labor
office in the city. They said that the workers had in their
individual possession their passports, proof of medical
insurance and proof of residence. Others confirmed that the
North Koreans seemed to have increased purchasing power when
going to the grocery store. One individual noted that in
years past the workers seemed to buy only the cheapest
produce and products in the store, but that now they were
picky and bought more expensive items if it was to their
liking. Storekeepers also commented that the North Koreans,
when they entered the grocery stores for the first time
immediately after arrival in the Czech Republic, seemed
overwhelmed by the numerous options and varieties of produce
and other perishables and found it difficult to make shopping
decisions.



--------------------------

--
MFA Believes DPRK Workers are a Political Issue


--------------------------

--


15. (C) G/TIP officer Megan Hall met October 10 with MFA
Korean Peninsula Affairs Officer Tomas Vostry to discuss the
North Korean worker situation. Vostry explained that the
issue is being followed closely at a high level. He stated
that there have been several regular meetings at the deputy
minister level between the Ministries of Interior, Labor and
Social Affairs, and Foreign Affairs. The MFA has recommended
a possible change in immigration law to address these cases,
Vostry noted. However, he was not certain if any changes in
the law were likely. The deputy ministers had agreed that no
new visas were to be issued. He explained that the Ministry
of Interior and Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs are to
keep the Ministry of Foreign Affairs appraised of all future
DPRK work visa applications. Vostry relayed that earlier
this year, the MFA attempted to have applications for visa
extension for existing North Korean workers refused, but the
Foreigner's Police said that they could not refuse a visa
extension application without some legal basis under Czech
law.


16. (C) Vostry noted that both the DPRK regime and the
factories where workers are employed want to increase the
number of workers in the country. He said that the North
Korean government would like to expand the focus of workers
beyond women working in the textile industry and to include
men working as machinists. Vostry noted that the Czech
Embassy in Pyongyang has contacted former workers in the
Czech Republic and that the North Koreans spoke Czech and
talked about how much they enjoyed their time in the Czech
Republic.



17. (C) PolEcon Counselor also met October 17 with Ivana
Grollova, Deputy Director of the MFA Asia Department, to
discuss the North Korean workers. Grollova said that the
North Korean nuclear test did not prompt the MFA to consider
eliminating the workers program (ref A), but that the program
is already under intense review within the government. She
stressed again that no new work permits or visas are
currently being issued for DPRK workers. She also assured
PolEcon Counselor that an asylum system was in place that
would allow the North Koreans to stay in the Czech Republic
if the workers indicated they were interested in asylum.



18. (C) During a meeting with DCM on November 1, Deputy FM
Tomas Pojar confirmed that there is pressure to increase the
number of North Korean workers in the country, and that the
MFA would not be able to maintain the ban on issuance of new
visas for much longer, absent legal or security problems.
Pojar said, however, that he will not allow the program to
grow, but rather intends to oversee a gradual elimination of
the program. He stressed that the GOCR had determined that
it could not simply shut down the existing program because it
would have a negative impact on broader Czech interests and
activities on the peninsula. Rather, Pojar believes that a
planned transfer of visa issuance from Beijing to the Czech
Embassy in Pyongyang in the near future will permit the GOCR
to introduce new visa screening procedures, making it easier
for the GOCR to justify a gradual increase in the number of
visa denials.



--------------------------


Comment


--------------------------




19. (C) The Czech government is clearly frustrated and
conflicted by the existence of the North Korean worker
program. The government continues to work closely through
its interministerial taskforce and has been transparent and
open with the USG and other observers in its efforts to
address the current situation. The Ministry of Foreign
Affairs has taken the lead in keeping an expansion of the
program at bay and continues to work to scale back the number
of workers. Continued expressions of interest and concern
from the USG, NGOs and the international press will support
the efforts being spearheaded by Deputy FM Pojar to wind the
program down in a manner consistent with overall Czech
interests. End Comment.



--------------------------


Worker details


--------------------------




20. (U) The Ministry of Labor provided the following list of
North Korean worker locations, employers and number of DPRK
employees.

41 North Koreans work in Prague at the Smetanova Bakery
(direct contract with employer).
26 North Koreans work in Cheb for the firm LE-GO as
seamstresses (direct contract with employer).
66 North Koreans work in Hradec Kralove for the firms Snezka,
VD Nachod as seamstresses and for the firm ELEGA as leather
workers (group contract with M plus labor broker).
65 North Koreans work in Nachod for the firms Snezka and VD
Nachod as seamstresses (group contract with M plus labor
broker).
16 North Koreans work in Jablonec nad Nisou for the firm
Hybler textile as manual laborers and seamstresses (direct
contract with employer).
11 North Koreans work in Prostejov for the firm Galeko as
seamstresses (direct contract with employer).
22 North Koreans work in Chrudim for the firm Milan Medek as
seamstresses (group contract with M plus labor broker).
17 North Koreans work in Pelhrimov for the firm Alfatex
Fashion as seamstresses (group contract with CLA agency labor
broker).
137 North Koreans work in Beroun for the firms Kreata (104
workers) and Jiri Balaban (17 workers) as seamstresses and
for the firm Horovice Bakery (16 workers) as bakers (group
contract with CLA agency labor broker).
7 North Koreans work in Pribram for the firm Horovice Bakery
as bakers (group contract with CLA agency labor broker).
GRABER