Shadow chancellor John McDonnell calls for clarity on migrant workers' right to strike

11 May 2018 | last updated: 16 May 2018

The shadow chancellor John McDonnell has joined a call by UCU for clarity on the right of migrant workers to take part in strike action without risking their immigration status.

Writing jointly for the Independent, the shadow chancellor and UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said the right to strike was fundamental and it "shouldn't be left to the discretion of Home Office officials whether engaging in strikes will lead to deportation."

The issue relates to a 20-day annual limit for unpaid absence from work, which applies to migrant workers on Tier 2 visas. According to the Home Office Immigration Rules, exceeding this limit could be grounds for revoking a migrant's leave to remain in the UK, but the union argues that this is at odds with the right to strike.

UCU wrote to the Home Office in March to seek clarity on the matter during 14 days of walkouts over university pensions. However, the response from immigration minister Caroline Nokes failed to provide any reassurance, simply saying "full regard will be given to the circumstances" when making decisions about immigration status.

The article says that in the context of the Windrush scandal and the government's hostile immigration policy, migrant workers need absolute certainty about their rights. It calls for an "unequivocal, written guarantee" that days spent taking legitimate strike action would not put migrant workers' immigration status at risk.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'International staff make a vital contribution to our economy and should be able to play a full part in defending their employment rights. It is unacceptable that they are being discouraged from taking lawful strike action by an arbitrary and inflexible limit on unpaid absence. What kind of message are we sending to the world if taking part in legitimate strikes could lead to deportation?

'The Home Office's Immigration Rules are clearly at odds with the fundamental right to strike. The government needs to listen to the concerns being raised by Labour and UCU, and act swiftly to provide proper clarity and ensure that migrant workers who take part in strikes are protected.'

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