UNISON demands action on migrant worker health surcharge

Conference hears the surcharge is a form of tax mainly targeting Black people

Delegates voting at Black members' conference

On the third day of UNISON’s national Black members’ conference, delegates passed several key motions in support of migrant rights. 

One of the motions demanded that the government hold to its promise of reimbursing the immigration health surcharge (IHS) paid by migrant workers.

The IHS is a health tax on migrants introduced under the government’s ‘hostile environment for migrants’ agenda. It’s an extra payment that migrant workers and their families have to make to the NHS, in addition to paying their taxes.

The surcharge was introduced in 2015 at £200 a year for each person. In 2018, it was doubled to £400 and in 2020, it increased to £624.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, under pressure from unions and the public, the government announced that health and social care staff would be entitled to reimbursements for IHS payments.

However, many healthcare workers are still waiting for their reimbursements to materialise. 

Introducing the motion, branch chair of UNISON Essex, Firdy Finch said: “Public services in the UK could not exist without migrant workers. Migrant workers’ commitment to the work they do is integral to the functioning of public services in the UK. Without them, society could not function.

“The immigration surcharge is a form of taxation targeting predominantly Black people.

“Nearly two years since the reimbursement scheme was introduced, many applicants are yet to receive repayment”

NHS workers who pay the surcharge are making a triple contribution to the NHS: they are providing the very service that they are being charged for, paying the surcharge itself and paying again through their taxes and national insurance.

Supporting the motion, Hetty Okonji from Bedfordshire health branch said: “What we’re asking is that the government fulfil the promise they made to workers who are predominantly Black.

“The Tory government made a promise in 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, because they knew they needed our people.

“Three years after, we don’t know if they are quietly reneging on their promise or if they’re going into selective amnesia. They’re hoping we all fall into amnesia, but we remember. And we will continue to remind them.”

The motion also called on the union’s national executive council (NEC) to discuss what further support can be offered to members who have not yet received reimbursement.

Conference also unanimously carried a motion on resisting refugee deportations to Rwanda. 

Speaking in support of the motion, Jenny Antonio from the national Black members committee said: “Tony Benn said the way the government treats refugees is instructive, because it shows how they’d treat the rest of us if they could get away with it.

“The UK is failing to carry out its responsibilities to refugees and asylum seekers, and outsourcing its responsibility.”

Also speaking in support of the motion, Gilly Anglin-Jarrett from East Midlands region said: “This government is repeating the mistakes this country made over 300 years ago, when the government sent working class people to Australia.

“Suella Braverman thinks she’s unaccountable. She needs to be accountable to the biggest union in this country.”

A further motion was passed on campaigning for a 28-day statutory time limit on immigration detention, and two internationally-focused motions were passed on showing solidarity with Ghana’s LGBT+ community and solidarity with Yemeni trade unions.