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Sat 28 Jan 2006 04:00 AM

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Smart solution to passport retention

Dubai Government is being urged to introduce a ‘smart card’ system for all expatriate labourers across the emirate

CONTRACTORS in Dubai are calling on the government to implement a ‘smart card’ system for all labourers working in the emirate.

The move comes after the Government of India announced a card-based system for Indian expat workers in the Middle East.

“Such a system would eradicate the need for employers to retain their employees’ passports,” said Mazen Mamlouk, deputy administration manager of Arabian Construction Company (ACC).

The contractor recently came under fire for holding back its employees’ passports. The practice is believed to be widespread in the UAE, despite being illegal.

But Mamlouk argues that the law has not been effectively enforced. “We don’t want to keep passports,” he said.

“But when the labour inspectors come, they ask to see the passports of all of our 10 000 employees — getting them together in a short space of time is a real headache.”

According to Youssef Gafar, an advisor to the Ministry of Labour, passport retention is an ongoing issue.

“We have been working on this for two years; yes, it still happens, but it’s not something that can be resolved overnight,” he said.

“A company may ask for a passport at any time for administrative purposes, but they have no right to keep it unless it’s on a voluntary basis.

“Every worker facing this situation can report it to the police or the Ministry of Interior.”

But a new ‘smart card’, containing an electronic chip that stores personal details, could help to solve the issue.

“We just want the same rights as labourers have everywhere else,” said an ACC employee, who did not wish to be named.

“These are our personal documents and, legally, nobody is allowed to take them.”

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