The Koreas

Qatar Firm Fires Dozens of North Korean Workers

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The Koreas

Qatar Firm Fires Dozens of North Korean Workers

The case sheds new light on the appalling conditions North Korean workers often face overseas.

Qatar Firm Fires Dozens of North Korean Workers
Credit: Qatar construction via Sophie James /

A construction company in Qatar has fired nearly half its North Korean workforce, claiming that North Korean managers in Qatar have exploited their workers and breached labor regulations.

Voice of America (VOA) reported on May 7 that Construction Development Company (CDC), has fired 90 of its 192 North Korean workers, and the main reason for the layoff was a violation of labor rights by the North Korean authorities.

According to minutes obtained by VOA, officials from CDC and the North Korean embassy in Qatar discussed the issue between May 2 and 3, and the decision to lay off the workers took effect on May 4.

The minutes revealed that the managers had severely violated the labor regulations, forcing North Korean workers to work more than 12 hours a day. One worker even died recently. The minutes added that North Korean workers were not given enough food, and safety standards were not followed.

CDC wanted to fire all 192 workers, but finally decided to let only 90 go, given the contribution made by North Korean workers to date. In addition, CDC warned that the company would fire the remaining workers immediately if there were any further violations, VOA reported.

North Korea regularly dispatches selected workers overseas, benefiting from the incomes they generate. Working conditions are typically poor.

It is unclear that how many North Korean people are currently working abroad, but Marzuki Darusman, U.N. special rapporteur on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, estimated on March 16 that the number was 20,000, mostly employed in China, Russia and the Middle East, adding that their working conditions are slave-like. NK Watch, a Seoul-based human rights group, put the number at about 100,000 workers in 40 countries.

One North Korean defector, who used to work in the Middle East, told The Diplomat on condition of anonymity that his life back in the Middle East as a construction worker was “below that of animals,” and that he and his colleagues faced worse treatment than did other foreign workers from Southeast Asian countries.

The defector added that workers was monitored at all times by so-called “managers,” who are also North Korea citizens dispatched by Pyongyang. But the defector said many in North Korea still think they can have a better life if they go abroad to work, so that competition for the jobs is very fierce in North Korea. Only those who have a good background or are able to bribe officials have a chance.

There have been other news reports about the working conditions for North Koreans overseas, but since most relied on information provided by North Korean defectors, their credibility was questioned. For that reason, this latest report involving CDC, with its client-side revelations, could be expected to have significant repercussions.