Many expatriate workers in the UAE are not exercising their legal power to get back their passports withheld by their employers, despite knowing that what the latter is doing is illegal.
Many of them are also unaware that the legal proceedings cost as little as Dh110 to obtain a court order to the police to get one’s passport released, says an advocate who had won the first court case against his client’s employer who had refused to hand over the passport of his employee.
Khaleej Times had reported in May 2006 that advocate Shamsudeen Karunagappally of Al Kabban Advocates and Legal Consultants won the case of an aeronautical engineer who had filed a complaint in October 2005 against his company that refused to release his passport.
Xavier, an Indian national, who had filed the petition against Arabian Manpower Recruiting, where he worked as a recruitment consultant, had won the verdict in his favour from the Appeal and Cassation Courts in Dubai, said the lawyer.
The verdict said that holding of employees’ passports by employers in the UAE is illegal and employers have no right to keep the passports of employees in their custody.
“The UAE rules have made it clear that employers are not entitled to hold back the passports of the employees unless for administrative purposes. However, based on the judicial precedence of that case, it is now very easy for employees to get a court order for the release of their passport through the police,” Shamsudeen told Khaleej Times.
“If they can pay a court of fee of Dh110, they can apply for an urgent petition to secure the passport with the Court of First Instance. The court will immediately order the police, under whose jurisdiction the respective company falls, to secure the passport and hand it over to the employee. It takes just one or two days to get the order to release the passport,” he explained.
He was speaking after winning another case in which he got a court order to get the passport of Indian national Sunil released last week. Sunil could not be present back at home in Kerala for his wedding last month as his company refused to hand over his passport. On the wedding day, Sunil’s sister had to step in for him to accept his bride by conducting the symbolically gifting of a traditional sari to the bride.
Another Indian groom, Kamalesh, whose sister had stood in for him for his wedding in May since his sponsor did not release his passport, is still fighting a labour case against the sponsor. However, he said he was unaware that he could seek legal help to secure his passport with a court fee of just Dh110.
Shamsudeen said the court would issue a stricter order and a search warrant to the police if the company or sponsor refused to hand over the passport to the police at the first instance. “After the verdict in 2006, I’ve handled more than 100 cases of employees who got their passports back through the court and the police.”
He said employees could also approach the Investigation and Follow-up Office of the General Directorate of the Naturalisaton and Residency at Al Aweer if employers had already filed any absconding case against them.
“Reporting of absconding cases can also be made at the labour ministry. If that has happened the worker has to approach the ministry to remove the absconding status and get back the passport. It is always better to seek the help of the authorities before a company reports a worker as absconding, to avoid legal hurdles. However, many workers fear for their company’s wrath and shy away from seeking legal help when they require their passport, which is actually a travel document that belongs to the government of the country of its issuance,” he observed.
During the 2007 amnesty, the Ministry of Labour had said that a company would be fined Dh10,000 and would be shut down for six months if the sponsor does not return the passport to its holder even if it is an illegal worker.