In Kuwait, we are blessed to have developed laws and a developed legal system as well as a constitution. The Kuwait Labor Law of 2006 is one of the best in the region and even the world – employees only work eight hours per day (some countries go up to 12 hours), receive termination indemnity, three months’ termination notice and many other benefits.
Yet, there are still some people who do not apply the law as they should and can be unlawful in their treatment of employees. It really is unfortunate that some managers take advantage of the fact that some expats are not aware of their rights and the laws with regards to employment, even though the law states that it is illegal for passports to be held be the employers.
So it is no surprise that there is a common concern in Kuwait and the region about the treatment of employees socially. One of the biggest issues is passports, so today I will be answering questions regarding holding an employee’s passport.
Question: My manager has requested me to hand in my passport and claims that this is the law in the GCC for private employees. Is this true?
Fajer: Absolutely not. There is no law that forces you to hand in your passport to your employer. In fact, it is illegal for employers to hold the passports of employees, and this is clearly stated in ministry resolution number 143/A/2010 in Article 1: “It is prohibited for private sector employers and oil sector employers to hold travel documents of their employees.”
As for other GCC countries, this is not true, even though some GCC countries request that you have permission from your employer before traveling.
Question: Do I need permission from my employer for traveling even if I do have my passport?
Fajer: No, not in Kuwait. If you are off for the weekend, then you can travel around. With that said, I would suggest that you let your employer know if you are traveling.
Question: If it is illegal for employers to hold my passport, how come they do not seem afraid? Are there no regulations that punish employers for doing such a thing?
Fajer: Yes, there are regulations that punish violating employers up to KD 200 for each passport held. This may not seem like a lot of money to some employers, so I really do hope that the government reforms these regulations and makes the punishment stricter as they have rightfully done for other employment issues in the past few weeks.
Question: Should my passport always have my work permit or visa in it?
Fajer: Yes, your passport has a printed visa in it, and your visa should mention your employer’s name (the company), as well as your address and your visa type. Also make sure your work permit (the white paper from the ministry of labor and social affairs) should have your salary as the actual amount.
Question: What can I do to get my passport back? I am traveling in a few days on holiday, yet my employer still does not want to hand me back my passport?
Fajer: I know that sometimes it is hard for an employee to do something against their employer, but you have to know your rights and ask for them. I would suggest you do the following:
1) Email your boss or the human resources department in writing, nicely. That way you have something in writing.
2) Go to the “Shuoon” (Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor), where you can file a complaint. The ministry has set up a complaint department that makes the process of filing for labor rights easier than the process of court.
3) You can always email me on email@example.com and I can email your employer.
4) You can try calling the hotline for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. The number is 128. Please email me your experience with them, I would love to hear about it.
5) http://www.mosal.gov.kw/ is the official website of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and might be helpful.
Most importantly, remember to stand up for your rights. The Kuwaiti government has set all the laws so that employees have rights, but you have to ask for them. I know it is not an easy thing to do, but no one else can ask for them on your behalf.
For any legal questions or queries, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Attorney Fajer Ahmed