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Myanmar migrant workers refuse to pay 2% income tax, Radio Free Asia reports

Myanmar nationals working abroad say they won’t pay income tax to their country’s junta as required by a newly passed law unless they are guaranteed protection of their labor rights, while others oppose funding what they see as an illegitimate military regime.

Myanmar’s Union Taxation Law of 2023, signed by junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, went into effect on Oct. 1, requiring migrant workers to pay a portion of their income to the regime. The new law ends an exemption that had been in effect since 2012.

On Dec. 13, the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok announced a tax rate of 2% on the earnings of migrant workers in Thailand.

But workers in Thailand are questioning why they should be forced to make the payments when they are afforded little assistance from the junta in protecting their rights abroad.

“We’ve witnessed many migrant workers suffering violations of their labor rights, but they don’t receive any assistance from Myanmar officials,” said Kyaw Zeya, a Myanmar national who works in Thailand. “So we won’t pay taxes without any protections.”

Migrant workers in Thailand told RFA Burmese that they are already struggling to make ends meet on low wages and that the new income tax will mean additional burdens.

Salaries for migrant workers in factories, workshops, agriculture and livestock, construction, and services is fixed at 7,500 baht (US$220) per month, meaning they will now be required to pay 150 baht (US$5) to the junta from each monthly paycheck.

Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand protest in front of the United Nations office in Bangkok against the junta’s 2% taxation of their income, Dec. 17, 2023. (RFA Photo)

In Japan, the Myanmar Embassy in Tokyo also recently announced a 2% tax on migrant worker incomes.

Under this taxation scheme, a Myanmar national in Japan who earned 200,000 yen (US$1,385) or more each month had to pay the junta 4,000 yen (US$30), while those who earned less had to pay 3,000 yen (US$20). Following resistance to the scheme, the requirements were reduced to 3,000 yen and 1,000 yen (US$5), respectively.

And while labor rights are generally better protected in Japan, Myanmar nationals working in the country told RFA that they prefer to pay their income taxes to the host nation, where the money won’t be spent on funding a military that kills and arrests those who object to its seizure of power in a Feb. 1, 2021 coup d’etat.

“Those [Myanmar nationals] who need to extend their passport cannot avoid the tax,” said Ye Zaw Htet, who lives and works in Japan. “But I refuse to pay a tax that can be used to harm people in Myanmar.”

Migrant workers who have paid the tax receive a certificate, which is needed to renew one’s passport, apply for labor ID cards and request certain official documents.

Funding a civil war

Analysts RFA spoke with said that the junta wants additional revenue to fund its purchase of aviation fuel, arms and ammunition, even while Myanmar has seen its economy contract and foreign investment vanish amidst a raging civil war.

With an estimated 5 million Myanmar nationals working in Thailand, the junta can expect to earn nearly 750 million baht (US$22 million) per month at a rate of 150 baht per worker.

From Singapore, where around 300,000 Myanmar nationals work and are required to pay a tax rate of 2%, the junta can expect to earn some 2.4 million Singapore dollars (US$1.8 million) per month.

One Myanmar citizen in Singapore who is working as a technician and spoke on condition of anonymity due to security concerns, said they will only pay taxes to a government with a legitimate mandate.

“We aren’t talking about a tax payment,” the worker said. “We will pay taxes to both our home and host countries for the development of our country under an elected government. But we aren’t willing to pay the coup regime.”

Sein Htay, an economist, said that regardless of how it is generated, government revenue “should be spent for public development programs and services, not for war expenses,” and certainly not to fund a civil war.

Living quarters in a camp where Thai and Myanmar construction workers reside in Bangkok. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)
Living quarters in a camp where Thai and Myanmar construction workers reside in Bangkok. (Lillian Suwanrumpha/AFP)

Attempts by RFA to contact Myanmar’s embassies in Tokyo, Bangkok and Singapore, as well as the junta’s Planning and Finance Ministry, for their response to criticism of the taxation plan went unanswered by the time of publishing.

However, Nyunt Win, the permanent secretary of the junta’s Labor Ministry, characterized the tax scheme as a way to pay for “work permits” for Myanmar nationals overseas.

“Work permits abroad have no connection to the government in the homeland,” he said. “The tax is needed to pay to the home country.”

In addition to the recent taxation plan, the junta has forced migrant workers to hand over 25% of their salaries to the regime when remitting money home through official transfer channels.

Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand staged a protest against the monthly 2% taxation plan in front of the United Nations’ office in Bangkok on Dec. 17, which received a message of support from the Ministry of Labor under the country’s shadow National Unity Government.

Translated by Aung Naing. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.

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