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Ida Dahea Lee (Ph.D, J.D.), a Lecturer of labour law at Seoul National University School of Law and a Research Fellow at the SNU Center for Labor & Welfare Law, will give a lecture on “North Korean Workers in a Migrant Labor Perspective: Their life, realities and legal issues”.

Since the inception of its regime after the Korean War in the 1950s, North Korea has been dispatching its people around the globe to earn cash from their labour and maintain its economy. Much has been debated regarding how North Korean labour actually “works” in the receiving countries; i.e. their total number worldwide, income, working conditions, and to what extent their earnings actually contribute to the North Korean regime.

In Russia and China alone, experts estimate that more than 100,000 North Korean workers are residing. As political sanctions against North Korea are tightening, and along with the recent shutdown of Kaesung Industrial Complex by the Park administration, it is expected that the number of North Korean working people abroad will grow even more. Recent in-depth studies reveal that despite their usual harsh working conditions, many North Korean workers regard working abroad a gainful opportunity, engaging in many kinds of capitalist market-oriented activities they were not used to back in Pyeongyang, and even seeking an alternative way of life during their stay in other countries.

What’s really happening inside their hidden workplaces – from the isolated factories in Yanbian to the far-east construction sites at Sakhalin? Can they be viewed as part of the worldwide phenomenon of ever-increasing “migrant” workers? If yes, how should law respond to their realities and future needs? Is labour law the best juristic tool to govern and protect their lives? Although very complex in its nature, this lecture addresses and tries to answer these issues.


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