85071 11/9/2006 12:23 06PRAGUE1400 Embassy Prague CONFIDENTIAL 06PRAGUE1319|06PRAGUE261|06PRAGUE266|06PRAGUE307|06PRAGUE420 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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