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(LEAD) Koreas buy time for talks on wage at factory park

All Headlines 17:12 May 22, 2015

(ATTN: RECASTS lead, headline; UPDATES with more info throughout; INCORPORATES bizmen-NK visit story)

SEOUL, May 22 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has accepted South Korea's tentative offer of wage payments for North Korean workers at a joint industrial park, allowing the two sides to buy time for talks on Pyongyang's unilateral wage hike, officials said Friday.

The two Koreas have been embroiled in the wage dispute as North Korea unilaterally decided in February to the hike minimum wage by 5.18 percent to US$74 per month for about 53,000 North Korean workers at the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the border city of the same name.

The agreement between the quasi-state committees from both sides will allow South Korean firms to pay the wage based on the $70.35 per month that was originally set, according to government officials. Then, the 124 South Korean firms will provide retroactive pay.

Friday's deal is not final as the two Koreas have not produced a breakthrough over the more sensitive issue of a wage cap. But the North has accepted Seoul's offer to pay the wage at a previously agreed level until separate consultations are held.

Seoul has rejected the North's unilateral move, saying that the North violated a 2004 agreement that calls for the two sides to set wages together. The wage cap has been set at 5 percent per year.

"The move will ease concerns about production setbacks that could be sparked by North Korean workers' threat not to work or to seek a work slowdown," the Ministry of Unification said in a statement.

It added that the government will make efforts to resolve the wage dispute as soon as possible through talks with North Korea.

The agreement came amid concerns about the strained inter-Korean ties following North Korea's recent abrupt cancellation of its invitation for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to visit the industrial complex.

The joint industrial park, which opened in 2004, is the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean reconciliation following a landmark inter-Korean summit in 2000. It has served as a revenue source for the communist country while South Korea has utilized cheap but skilled North Korean labor.

In August 2013, the two Koreas also decided to set up a joint committee in charge of running the complex following the North's unilateral move to shut down the park for about four months in April of that year.

A group of South Korean businessmen with factories there visited the complex earlier in the day in an effort to resolve the prolonged dispute as the 10-day period of the wage payment for April began Sunday.

Seoul has requested that its companies not send out paychecks, vowing to punish violators. But despite the warning, about 50 out of the 124 South Korean companies had paid March wages to the North's workers, apparently after threats from the North.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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