North agrees to February Kaesong plant meeting
The two Koreas will hold a working-level discussion on the North’s Kaesong Industrial Complex on Feb. 1, but they have not settled on the agenda as the North renewed its previous demand for wage hikes for its Kaesong workers.
The two sides wrapped up a conference on how to improve the complex early yesterday in Kaesong. Following the scheduled sessions that were supposed to end Wednesday afternoon, the two sides had further talks that lasted past midnight as they wrangled over the agenda for the February meeting. Kim Young-tak, the head of the South Korean delegation, said his team proposed that the meeting first address facilitating cross-border trips and communications for South Korean workers and building residences for North Korean workers.
The North countered that in addition to these matters, the wage issue should be on the table. “The North Koreans didn’t give specific figures for wages,” Kim explained in a press briefing yesterday in Seoul. “At this point, we don’t know whether they will bring that up again on Feb. 1.”
More than 100 South Korean companies employ about 42,000 North Koreans at the complex. North Korea had earlier demanded wage hikes. It later appeared to withdraw that, only to bring it up again this week.
In June 2009, at the year’s second working-level discussions on Kaesong, the North asked that the minimum monthly wage be raised from $55 to $300 and that it be increased 10 to 20 percent annually afterwards.
North Korea reiterated the demand in the ensuing two meetings, even though the current agreement says wages may not be increased by more than 5 percent per year. Then in September, the North agreed to a 5 percent raise in an unexpected move. The Unification Ministry at the time stopped short of saying Pyongyang had completely withdrawn its wage demand and didn’t rule out the possibility the issue could come up again.
Kim, the chief South Korean representative, said productivity would have to be the key factor in determining wages.
“Compared to other industrial complexes [where South Korean companies are operating], the Kaesong site doesn’t appear to be so productive,” Kim said.
By Yoo Jee-ho [firstname.lastname@example.org]