Stalin-style gulag in modern day Poland?
Gdansk Shipyard, the cradle of Solidarity, which toppled communist rule in Poland, has a group of North Korean workers busy on the site. Shipyard officials say that the North Korean welders are filling vacancies left open by Polish workers who have left for greener pastures in the EU. But the team is said to be working in a gulag environment. Apparently, the repressive North Korean government is pocketing their wages, while the workers are constantly being watched by North Korean communist party members.
Press reports say that North Korean welders are kept under guard by communist party members brought in from North Korea. Their families are literally held hostage if they refuse to work long hours. Eye witness reports say that the workers have been in Gdansk for roughly 12 months and keep pretty much to themselves. They are driven to and from hangar KI, the largest working facility in the shipyard. Insiders say that the North Korean welders work 12 to 16 hours a day. This North Korean welder has been working at the Gdansk shipyard for the past 12 months.
"If this situation doesn't clear up, we will not work here. More people from North Korea are waiting to come here and work to fill vacancies'.
Over the past five years 75 North Koreans have worked in the area. But this employee from the Democratic People's republic embassy in Warsaw denies press reports.
"75 people working there NO way. Fact is, our people are working there and what the papers wrote about the conditions they are working in isn't entirely true."
According to press reports, the North Korean welders are kept under scrutiny by Selene, a personnel company that has employed them. After several dozen phone calls I managed to get hold of shipyard administrative Director Bogdan Oleszek who argues that the workers were not hired by the shipyard.
"The truth is that the Gdansk shipyard has hired a company to employ the Koreans. So the shipyard itself doesn't employ the Koreans directly.'
The yard has survived free market reforms, but Poland's accession to the European Union two years ago has led to a drain of skilled workers. Many welders and other qualified workers have jumped ship in search for better paid jobs in other countries of the Union.
"There is a lack of welders and assembly men. Most of our people have left Poland to work for better paying jobs elsewhere in the Union'
Market analyst Robert Strybel from the Polish American Journal says that the situation at the yard is ironic. According to him, the Solidarity past of the plant belies what's going on there right now.
"It's on the one hand ironic that the cradle of the Solidarity movement that led to the collapse of communism across the continent is employing people from one of the most brutal totalitarian regimes that exists today. However this is basically an economic issue because Poland is loosing may of its skilled workers who are going to the West"
Gdansk shipyard officials say that the North Koreans have all the requirements needed to carry out their duties. Meanwhile, press reports suggest that Polish security agents often visit the yard and ask workers whether the newcomers have been caught doing something else that just welding.