Workers Take Company to Court for Illegally Retaining Their Passports

A group of workers has slapped a lawsuit on their company since it refused to hand them their passports despite repeated requests.

This is, arguably, the first time such a court case has been filed in the country, as it is the practice with most private sector employers to retain workers’ passports.

The workers said in their court plea that their repeated requests to give them their passports fell on deaf ears. According to them, they need their passports to carry out certain transactions. Producing original passports is compulsorily required to conclude these transactions, the workers have maintained.

They have said that it is their right to reclaim their passports, which their company is retaining in violation of rules.

The Peninsula contacted prominent lawyer Mohsin Thiyab Al Suwaidi for his comment on the issue. He said the workers were on the right side of the law. According to him, the new sponsorship law which is already in force requires sponsors not to retain the passports of their workers.

A company violating this particular clause of the sponsorship law is to be fined QR10,000, he pointed out, but clarified that he was not sure if executive by-rules to implement the new sponsorship law had been issued. But whether or not the bye-laws have been issued, he reiterated that the new sponsorship law was indeed in force. Otherwise, too, Al Suwaidi said Qatar’s criminal code forbids companies to retain the passports of their employees.

A passport is not an ordinary document. It is basically a property of the government which has issued it. Some moral values and importance is also attached to a passport, said Al Suwaidi.

Companies, on the other hand, justify their stand on retaining passports by insisting that they can get their visas renewed on time, while left in the custody of workers, visa renewal could be ignored by many and for which the onus is directly put on employers.

Companies say the other reason why they retain the passports of their workers is that many of them, especially those in semi-skilled and unskilled jobs, run away and take up employment elsewhere.