This 1 Disturbing Fact Reveals What the Lives of North Korean Workers Are Really Like

Do you hate your job? As much as you may be toiling away for low pay or a tyrannical boss, things could be a lot worse. Case in point: North Korea. Here we’ll take a look at the typical day for a worker in the capital city of Pyongyang.

You’ll notice that even some basic daily necessities we take for granted in the U.S. are missing for North Korean workers. People put in long hours and still can barely feed their families. We’ll finish up the article with one disturbing work rule that no American can ever imagine enduring.

The day starts

North Korean women work at the assembly line of the factory of South Korean textile company

A North Korean woman works on the assembly line in a factory. | Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

  • 6 a.m.

The day starts early in Pyongyang. People’s breakfast menu may include corn or maize porridge, a boiled egg, or sour yogurt. Another staple eaten by some for all their meals is boiled rice mixed with water and kimchi (fermented cabbage). Children may have powdered milk.

As for work attire, makeup including eyeliner and lipstick is now common in Pyongyang. Long hair is common in women, but untied hair is frowned upon. Men and women alike make sure they have their Kim Il Sung badge attached to their lapel every day.

Next: A commuting challenge you’ve probably never faced

Commuting to work

Pyongyang North Korea Metro

The Pyongyang subway. | Sze Soong Teoh/iStock/Getty Images

  • 7:00 a.m.

Most Pyongyang streets are lined with high-rise apartments 20 to 40 stories tall. Those on higher floors leave for work earlier because they often have to walk down dozens of flights of stairs. This is because elevators often don’t work due to chronic power cuts in the city.

Commuters ride to work on the bus or a train which consists of carriages acquired from East Berlin after Germany was unified. Few opt to drive to work; police enforce traffic regulations strictly and issue tickets. A traffic fine can eat up two weeks of one’s salary. Owners of cars deemed dirty can even be fined.

Next: Why workers need to arrive early

Before-work sessions

North Koreans wave flags in front of portraits of North Korean late president Kim Il-Sung (L) and his son Kim Jung-Il during celebrations

Portraits of North Korean leaders adorn the walls in all offices. | Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

  • 7:30 a.m.

For many North Koreans, the workday starts with a mandatory 30-minute session for physical exercise and reading government propaganda in the daily newspapers. Portraits of deceased country leaders Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il adorn walls in all offices. The 1980s version shows both looking very serious, whereas in the 1990s version both appear smiling.

Next: It’s hard to picture office life without computers.

Work begins

a hairdresser poses in a salon in North Korea

Hairdresser Kim Hae-Jong poses for a portrait at a leisure and health complex in Pyongyang. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

  • 8 a.m.

While Pyongyang is the center of North Korea’s white-collar workforce, you’d be surprised at some of the amenities and technology offices don’t have. For instance, computers, photocopiers, and other modern technology are rare to nonexistent. Payrolls and accounting are done by hand.

Even if there were computers, Internet access would be strictly limited. Only government officials or those with special permission can go online.

Next: One reason lunchtime is nothing like in the U.S.


North Korea lifestyle beer

A North Korean waitress pouring beer. | Kim Won-Jin/AFP/Getty Images

  • 12 p.m.

At mid-day, workplaces break for lunch for an hour. Many workers pack a lunch or head home for a quick meal. Some employers offer a canteen serving cheap lunches like corn soup, corn cake, and porridge.

Due to this and the lack of food shops and restaurants, Pyongyang remains eerily empty during the lunch hour. What a difference from the typical big U.S. city around noon.

Next: Work ends, but not exactly.

2 Mandatory after-work sessions

Statues of North Korea's founding president Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il are unveiled

Statues of Kim Il-Sung (L) and his son Kim Jong-Il | Pedro Ugarte/AFP/Getty Images

  • 5 p.m.

Work ends, but most people are required to remain there two daily after-work sessions. The Community Session is to discuss and evaluate the day’s work and plan for the next day.

During this time, workers are urged to criticize their work and that of their colleagues. Criticisms range from being late for work to wasting national resources. The Learning Session is political in nature, and its purpose is to talk about party policy and ideology.

Next: A major nighttime hardship

Arriving home

Koryo hotel in Pyongyang

Pyongyang high rises. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

  • 8 p.m.

By 8:00, most people are home from work. Just like before work, people are faced with electricity outages at night. In winter, many wear several layers of clothing to keep warm. Others without power head to nearby friends’ and neighbors’ homes that do have heat to spend the night there.

The electricity shortages, combined with an absence of places to go for entertainment, means everyone is generally in bed by 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning — when it all starts over again.

Next: The most disturbing work rule yet?

They work 70 days straight

Exterior of North Korean ski resort

Few North Koreans are able to take time off to visit attractions like the Masikryong Ski Resort. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

North Koreans work 70 days straight without any time off for weekends or holidays. This is part of a mandate implemented around 2016 fueled by global sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The goal of the 70-day work mandate is to boost productivity and demonstrate loyalty. People can get a day off only if they buy it for around twice the amount the average North Korean earns in a month.

Just when you thought your work life was bad.

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