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Western hotel chains retain workers’ passports in Abu Dhabi

Some major hotel chains in Abu Dhabi retain employees’ passports on premises, saying it’s to assist workers as opposed to being a sign of forced labor, the United Arab Emirates’ National reports.

Officials from Hilton and InterContinental told the National that it’s common for hotels to retain passports because many employees live in shared housing and lack a safe place to keep valuables.

The employees, they say, have permission to obtain their passports 24/7 and only the passports of workers who consent are retained.

The keeping of passports, however, is not only controversial – it is illegal.

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Abu Dhabi’s highest courts have ruled that passport retention is illegal, although the National notes that no government agency enforces the law. An employee has the option of filing a complaint with the Ministry of Labor.

“Hotel operators said they were aware the practice was illegal, but their policies did not amount to forced labour,” the National’s story says. “Because shared accommodation is unique to the region, local divisions and individual hotels are able to construct their own policies on passport retention.”

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According to the article, several employees at the Millennium Hotel in Abu Dhabi filed complaints with the Ministry of Labour saying that they were forced to hand over their passports, causing them to be fearful.

“People are scared that if they say anything they won’t be allowed to work in the UAE anymore,” a Millennium hotel worker told the National.

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How officials from western hotel chains view the issue, according to the story:


“In terms of the way we look at it, it’s done for safety,” Emma Corcoran, the corporate communications director for the Middle East and Africa for Hilton Worldwide, which has 10 hotels in the UAE. “It’s done for their protection, and they have constant access. Employees are free to come and go. There are no restrictions at all.”

InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG):

“Employees can request for their passports at any time, ie business or personal travel or in case of any emergency,” said Jenny Atkinson, the vice president of human resources for India, Middle East and Africa for InterContinental Hotels Group, which has 19 UAE hotels.

Readers: What do you think about the handing over of a passport to your employer? Would you give your consent?

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