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In reality, there is no freedom of association in Korea. Independent trade unions are prohibited. The only authorised trade union organisation, the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea, is controlled by the single party, the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP). It operates according to the old "Stalinist" model of trade unions, with responsibility for mobilising workers to meet production targets and providing health, education, culture and welfare services.
In April 2005, the UN Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution on North Korea in which it condemned "…all pervasive and severe restrictions…on peaceful assembly and association…", and urged the government to address these human rights problems by, among other things, "…adhering to internationally recognised labour standards…". Workers do not have the right to bargain collectively. Government ministries set wages.
Surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers, North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Zone are tightly controlled and under constant surveillance by the authorities. Human Rights Watch reported the South Korean Ministry of Unification has stated there are no trade unions present in the Zone. The North Korean Government selects worker representatives in Zone workplaces, subject to the approval of the South Korean company management.
The UN Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights, and numerous government and NGO sources, found that the North Korean government consistently used forced labour. The government also sends workers abroad, to countries including Bulgaria, China, Kuwait, Mongolai, Poland, Romania, Russia and Yemen. Pyongyang keeps a tight rein on them, and takes most of their wages. Extensive evidence from the Czech Republic, for example, shows that workers have to pay most of their wages into a central bank account, they have no freedom of speech and are accompanied by an Embassy guard, who acts as an interpreter. Their situation has been described by a former North Korean embassy official as slave labour.
Gae-Sung free trade zone.