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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

North Korean Workers in Qatar Fired Over Labor Violations

August 25, 2015

by Eunjung Cho

A well-known Qatari construction company has fired its entire North Korean workforce for repeated violations of the company’s rules and inhumane treatment of the workers by their North Korean supervisors. In May, the company dismissed 90 North Korean laborers for similar violations.

A diplomatic source in Doha, who asked to remain anonymous, told VOA Tuesday that Qatar’s Construction Development Company (CDC) has fired 108 North Korean laborers.

The construction company notified a North Korean official supervising the workers of its decision in late July. Some of the workers already have left the country, according to the source.

Under Qatar’s kafala system, foreign unskilled laborers employed by local employers must leave the country shortly after their dismissal.

​​According to the source, CDC took the action after learning that some North Korean workers had secretly worked at another company’s construction site at night, a violation of an agreement that bans the workers from working for another company.

Back in May, the CDC and officials from the North Korean embassy in Kuwait struck an 8-point agreement. Under the agreement, the North Korean workers are required to work for CDC only and be immediately dismissed if the agreement is breached.

CDC also raised concerns about the treatment of the workers by their North Korean supervisors.

The source said the company cited incidents that the employees who worked during the day at the CDC site were sent to another construction site at night and were forced to overwork. The company also suspected that supervisors might have confiscated workers’ wages.

Yi Jongsol, a South Korean businessman who runs a construction company in Qatar, said the supervisors practically smuggled the workers out during the night and made them work.

VOA contacted CDC for comments on the dismissal, but the company has not responded to the inquiry.

CDC builds luxury hotels and government facilities in Qatar, with its annual revenue amounting to $300 million. The company requires all its employees and associates to adhere to international labor and ethics rules.

North Korean workers are contracted with local construction companies through North Korean recruitment firms in Qatar: Sudo Construction, Gunmyung Construction, Namgang Construction and Genco. The firms are all managed by North Korea’s External Construction Bureau. Some of the workers are soldiers dispatched by North Korea to earn cash. Sudo and Gunmyung made their first inroads to Qatar in 2003, followed by Genco in 2010. The recruit firms are employing some 3,000 North Korean laborers for making pavements and buildings.

It is estimated that some 50,000 North Koreans are working in 16 countries around the world, raking in US $2.3 billion for the regime annually.

Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Council and human rights organizations have raised concerns about poor working conditions of North Korean workers abroad.

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