As working conditions in Myanmar deteriorate, with already precarious labor rights being trampled upon by unscrupulous business owners, more and more people are migrating to regional countries to find employment, sending money home to their families. Yet, added to the pressures such migrant workers face abroad, including police extortion, difficulties attaining secure documentation and discrimination, are junta’s plans to try and extract part of their remittances to fund its war of terror against the people of Myanmar.
Following the attempted military coup, a decrease in domestic job opportunities, coupled with low wages and rising living costs, as well as the real risks of violence and insecurity, have compelled tens of thousands of workers to leave the country in search of work opportunities overseas. This adds to the pre-existing substantial population of migrant workers throughout the region who have previously sought better livelihood opportunities in the past decades.
Yet recently, the Labor Department under the junta’s control told Voice of America that they are discussing within the department on instructions that roughly specify that 25% of migrant workers’ salary sent back to Myanmar as remittances will be taxed. It also said that all workers who go through agencies recognized by the Labor Department will be covered under this directive. There are approximately 2.2 million Myanmar nationals working in Thailand and Malaysia alone, and most of them are sending money to their respective families in convenient ways. According to the junta’s foreign missions, Myanmar workers from Thailand, Malaysia, Japan and Singapore have remitted a total of 1.5 billion US dollars back to their home in the period from 1 November 2022 to 28 April 2023. This is why the foreign income that the junta can take from workers is attractive to them. The junta is determined to extract every possible penny out of the people to fund its campaign of terror against the people. The fact that the junta is desperately trying to get money from workers abroad shows how high its need for foreign currency is.
The remittances may seem a big amount to boost Myanmar economy, but it was earned at the expense of migrant workers’ sweat, blood and tears. Migrant workers face serious abuses, forced labor and slavery-like conditions when working abroad, including employers withholding passports or banning workers from leaving their premises or from contacting the outside world. With few protection mechanisms such as enforceable ethical recruitment processes and guarantees of fundamental freedoms, migrant workers from Myanmar are often treated poorly in destination countries, all the while being separated from their families and home community.
However, the situation at home means that many workers remain abroad, not just because of the extreme violence being inflicted by the military junta, but also the lack of workers’ rights including arrests of trade union members and leaders, abuses in factories, unpaid wages, and a rapidly spiraling inflation due to the junta’s weaponization of the economy to fund its violence. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the number of workers who have been fired since the military’s attempted coup in Myanmar has risen to 41 percent. It also added that fundamental employment rights were frequently disregarded during terminations, as only 29.5% of dismissed workers received mandated severance pay. Between February 2022 and February 2023, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) monitored 156 reported cases of alleged worker abuse in Myanmar’s garment factories, marking an increase from 56 cases in the preceding year. The report indicates that there were 21 reported cases of alleged abuses connected to Inditex suppliers during the period of two years, along with 20 cases linked to H&M suppliers.
In pursuit of low production costs, many fashion brands outsource manufacturing to countries with weaker labor regulations. This often leads to exploitative practices such as low or unpaid wages, excessive working hours, unsafe working conditions, and lack of job security. Workers, especially in developing countries, face inhumane treatment and inadequate compensation. This was already the case in Myanmar, but with the even further lack of protection of workers’ rights since the coup attempt, this situation has worsened.
The economic impacts of the junta’s ongoing catastrophic attempt to seize power are far reaching. As it attempts to shape the economy in the service of its killing machine, it is trying to extract as much value from its working population and this is now spreading out to migrant workers who left the violence and economic ruins of their home country. While a sign of the junta’s desperation for funds, it is, as ever, among the most marginalized populations that bear the brunt – in this case the working poor. The junta has once again proved that it has absolutely no consideration for the livelihoods, well-being, or working conditions of the people of Myanmar. In this regard it is even more critical for other actors to comply with international obligations under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and ensure better protection of workers’ rights and decent conditions both in and out of Myanmar. This includes due diligence by international companies that source products from Myanmar and commitment to ensure fair pay and safe, secure jobs. Furthermore, the National Unity Government must proactively seek to secure MoUs with host countries to include protection mechanisms for migrant workers to end exploitative employment practices.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By 200 organizations
By 514 Civil Society Organizations
By ALTSEAN-Burma, Asia Justice and Rights, FORUM-ASIA, Initiatives for International Dialogue, KontraS, Myanmar National Organizing Committee, ND-Burma, Progressive Voice and YAPPIKA-ActionAid
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland
By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners
By Human Rights Watch
By International Labour Organization
By Myanmar Accountability Project
By United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
By International Crisis Group
By International Labour Organization
By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”