Without any advance warning from their ISS bosses nor the university management, SOAS cleaning staff were confronted by a hefty team of immigration officers at 6.30am this morning (Friday 12 June). Fearful cleaners were detained on SOAS premises as the officers demanded to see their papers. Some were taken into rooms of the university to be interviewed. A shocked witness said that someone had to intervene when a heavily-pregnant cleaner was being manhandled by immigration officers. Nine cleaners were taken away by Immigration Officers.
SOAS staff and students, many who had been at a protest at the sacking of another cleaner and UNISON Branch Chair, Jose Stalin Bermudez, were shocked and outraged by the raid and fear that the cleaners may be deported very soon.
There has been widespread support amongst lecturers, staff and students for the successful campaign for the living wage and union recognition led by mainly migrant cleaners.
Graham Dyer, SOAS UCU Branch Chair said:It is no co-incindence that there is an immigration raid at a time when the UCU ,Unison and the NUS are fighting against the victimisation of a migrant worker who has been at the heart of a fight that has improved the pay and conditions of workers here at SOAS. It is also not coincindental that ISS had only just signed a union recognition agreement with UNISON last week Our fight has united lecturers, staff and students and has rocked SOAS management. Those managers are now lashing out. It is a disgrace that SOAS management saw fit to use a seat of learning to intimidate migrant workers. This is their underhand revenge and we will do all we can to stop migrant workers paying the price.
The living wage campaign has had the support of John McDonnell MP , who said:As living wage campaigns are building in strength, we are increasingly seeing the use of immigration statuses to attack workers fighting against poverty wages and break trade union organising. The message is that they are happy to employ migrant labour on poverty wages, but if you complain they will send you back home. It is absolutely shameful.
Ken Loach, director of the film Looking For Eric, stated:"This raid is the action of a bully. Migrant workers are amongst the most vulnerable - poorly paid and far from home. Recent action by Unison to secure better wages and conditions at SOAS was good news. Now we wonder if the SOAS cleaners are being targeted because they dared to organise as trade unionists. We should all stand with them in solidarity in the face of this victimisation."