I wrote about passport issues four years ago when I first started my legal writing career and although as a lawyer I feel I have covered all legal points, I am constantly getting emails of concern from expat employees because their passports were taken away from them and they were made to believe that it is the right thing to do! So I apologize that I am writing about this topic repeatedly, but I want to make things clear to the expat population in Kuwait that is getting confused by the untruths that their employers are telling them.
I understand that companies invest a lot in employees, from airplane tickets to training and workshop fees and so on. Therefore they want to make sure that their employees stay in the country and work for them, and if the employee decides to leave before the end of their contract, the employer can ask to get compensated for their loss.
Question: Do I get to keep my passport with me or should I have to hand it over to the HR department?
Fajer: You get to keep your passport no matter what the situation is. Logically, your passport is your national ID. It also has your visa, therefore you should keep it on you at all times. HR have no right to ask for your passport. In fact it is clearly stated in Article 1 of ministerial resolution number 143/A/2010: “It is prohibited for private sector employers and oil sector employers to hold travel documents of their employees.”
Article 2 goes on to mention a punishment from the new labor law, Article 141: “In the event where the violator does not remedy the violation within the specified period, he shall be subject to a fine of not less than KD 100 and not more than KD 200 for each of the workers who are involved in the violation. In the event of recurrence within three years from the date of the final judgment, the punishment shall be doubled.” This means that your company can initially get fined KD 100-200 for keeping your passport.
The only time that your HR department should ask for your passport is if they needed it to do paperwork and even then they should be clear and it should not take long.
Question: What legal action can I take against my employers if they are refusing to hand over my passport?
Fajer: You can file a complaint at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor asking for your passport. The process is simple, but you can always hire a lawyer to file the complaint for you. This may cause the HR department or your employer to be aggressive towards you. I am saying this from experience – I have seen employees go through a rough time and be treated badly because they asked for their right to keep their passports. It’s really sad to see that employees still treat their workers this way, even though the Kuwaiti government has rewritten many resolutions in order to give the employees more rights.
Leaving the country
Question: If I do have my passport with me and decide to leave the country, even though I do not have permission to do so, what legal actions can be taken against me?
Fajer: If you leave on the weekend or on your off days, then it is fine, but you should inform your employer. If you leave not wanting to come back and work for your company, then just keep in mind that they can file a case against you, or an absconding case (a criminal case) and ban you from entering Kuwait again.
I apologize again for repeating my topics but it is really disappointing to read the emails that I receive on a daily basis from employees who are not being treated well. They are not getting some of their fundamental rights, like keeping their personal national IDs with them and as I have said, the Kuwaiti government has introduced regulations that punish such offenders, but it seems that it is not enough.
Therefore I think there should be stricter regulations, maybe extreme regulations, in order to stop offenders. If you read the emails that I get you would get the sense that it has become a norm to treat expat employees this way! I know that this is not the case, and it all depends on the company’s policies or the HR department and those working in HR who might be expats themselves, but I ask you all to work with kindness and to treat people well. I hope the above helps.
By Attorney Fajer Ahmed
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