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Myanmar overseas workers refuse to pay military-imposed taxes

Originally published on Mohinga Matters

Myanmar’s military, grappling with economic turmoil, international sanctions, and domestic resistance, has implemented a contentious financial policy. According to this directive, Myanmar workers overseas must send 25 percent of their earnings back to Myanmar through regime-controlled local banks and pay an additional 10 percent income tax. This decision has ignited a heated debate and raised concerns about the financial strain it places on overseas workers and their families.

On Sept. 24, in the scorching heat of Bangkok, hundreds of migrant workers gathered in front of the U.N. headquarters to protest the military’s recent income-related directive. Their message was loud and clear: “You won’t receive a single penny from us!” The revised order, issued in September, not only requires Myanmar workers to remit 25 percent of their income, but it also imposes a 10 percent income tax, effective this month. This means that Myanmar workers are now required to pay double tax.

In fact, as early as the February 2021 military coup, people in Myanmar employed a tax boycott as a strategy in their anti-coup resistance. Many believed that paying taxes amounted to financing the violence against those opposing military rule. This sentiment is now echoed by the Myanmar diaspora, who are determined to resist paying taxes despite concerns about the repercussions they may face for non-compliance.

The military’s frantic efforts to generate revenue and secure foreign currency dollars come as the country grapples with a dollar shortage due to the pressures of the revolution, international sanctions, and the departure of foreign investment in post-coup Myanmar. Many workers have voiced their concerns about the financial burden and the security risks their families face back home.

They are also troubled by the requirement to use military regime-controlled banks with extremely unfavourable exchange rates. Additionally, family members back home are at risk as personal information about the workers is collected specifically for this new policy by military-appointed ward administrators. Non-compliance with the new policy not only jeopardizes personal safety but also results in a three-year travel ban and difficulties in passport renewal.

Hla Oo is a Myanmar worker in Osaka, Japan. When she was asked how she intends to avoid compliance with the new policy, Hla Oo said: “As long as the [military] remains in power, I have no intention of returning home or sending a single penny through [its] banks.” She does not fear repatriation because her hometown, Sagaing, is now under the control of the National Unity Government (NUG). Hla Oo added: “[Military] members dare not set foot in my village due to the strong resistance in the area.”

Kyaw Ni, the NUG Deputy Minister of Labor Affairs, said: “The [military]’s new move contravenes the labor rights law of the International Labour Organization [ILO], which safeguards migrant workers and is endorsed by many host countries.”

The military’s desperate attempts to obtain foreign currency and assert control over the anti-coup Myanmar diaspora has failed. The directive has drawn strong criticism from workers and raised questions about its economic impact on individuals who rely on remittances to support their families in Myanmar. It also underscores the military’s struggle to secure foreign currency in the face of international sanctions.

“As long as the military remains in power, I have no intention of returning home or sending a single penny through regime-controlled banks,” said an unnamed overseas Myanmar worker. 

This story has been edited for brevity. Mohinga Matters is a platform where aspiring writers share their thoughts, ideas and opinions freely.


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