Employment in the United Arab Emirates has differences from employment elsewhere and I am extremely pissed by some of the rules.
Most firms in the UAE/GCC countries are anal about retaining the passport of their employees even against their will and without court order.
The company I am working for is keeping the passport of ALL the employees for all the good reasons. Safe safekeeping, they say. The truth is, they don’t have the authority by law to keep possesion of the employee’s passport, they are personal documents!
With much hesitation, I gave them my passport last January. Wait, to properly put it, they asked for it for visa application purposes and I gave it.
It never came back.
I got back my passport last March because I need it to apply for the proper visa of my troop. After that, I need to apply for a bank account so I did not return it. Then my mother came and I need the passport still to apply for her visa. All in all, I have it with me for three months. They did not ask for it anyway.
The phone call from the HR personnel yesterday was enough to burn the handset. He was obviously enraged, infuriatingly mad at me. He told me because I had not returned my passport, the HR personnel will not be releasing any passports to the employees who requested it.
It is summer and exodus time in Dubai. Since they are not releasing/processing passport requests, the people who are applying for emergency leave could not get out of the country unless I return mine.
Everyone is angry with me, he says.
WTF! I know perfectly well that all it would take is a couple of well placed phone calls to the right people and I can get this company into a world of trouble. Evil sponsors witholding employee passports!
I was summoned by the department chief today, same topic. He explained that the company’s passport safekeeping is with good intentions (I’m tired of hearing this excuse). My company is my sponsor and if I do something wrong like take a bank loan and abscond, the sponsor is held liable. That and among other reasons is why employees are not trusted with their own personal documents. He added that, unlike other companies in the UAE where you could leave easily, to leave this company, all I have to do is make a month’s notice and the HR moron will send me off at the airport where they officially cancel your visa. Trust the company, they are with good intentions (again!).
Trust? I thought this is a two-way matter. How can I trust them (to give me back my passport in case I quit) if they don’t trust their employees in the first place?
Expatriates can complain to the Ministry of Labor who is trying to act blind to what is going on here. Lots of luck needed for this one. After all, the expats in UAE are temporary/disposable/expendable people and they always deafeningly say: If you don’t like it here, then leave.
While companies witholding employees’ passports is evil, the real problem lies with the government’s laws that tolerates employers to take such actions.
I would love to know where this floated in the water of international labor law.