A story has emerged involving alleged mistreatment of a foreign worker, after a post shared on Facebook by a local NGO pointed to an old practice by employers unlawfully retaining foreign workers’ passports for leverage.
According to KISA, a non-governmental organization advocating for human rights, a migrant worker in the Republic of Cyprus filed a complaint with the Labour department last summer against his employer in rural Nicosia.
The case, which involved contract disputes and allegations of unlawful confiscation of personal documents, was then forwarded to the Immigration department after the employer refused to cooperate, according to KISA.
Back in March of this year, authorities ruled that the migrant, described as an Indian national, could seek a new employer under his current work visa terms, while also ordering the previous employer to pay over €1400 in unpaid wages.
But the NGO said that the employer has been refusing to pay or return the travel documents to the rightful owner, with the worker ending up going to the police last month to seek help in retrieving his passport.
KISA director Doros Polykarpou told Knews he was frustrated with the police process, after the worker was unable to file a complaint on the first visit. According to KISA, police in Lakatamia called up several times the employer, who promised to return the passport to its bearer, but that did not take place.
'The farmer needs to understand that the authorities sided with the worker over the dispute, and there is no basis for the employer to hold the passport'
After an agreement, the worker ended up walking several miles to the farm southwest of Nicosia to retrieve his passport, with Polykarpou saying the employer ended up demanding €500 for the cost of a return ticket.
“But the worker never asked for a ticket, he wants to find a new employer,” Polykarpou said, adding that without his passport, the worker cannot obtain a new employment contract.
“The farmer needs to understand that the authorities sided with the worker over the dispute, and there is no basis for the employer to hold the passport,” Polykarpou said.
Polykarpou explained that it was not uncommon for employers to ask for the passports and other documents for a reasonable period in order to file paperwork, as long as “they need to give it back after they are done and not keep it to use as leverage.”
Police finally took a statement last week but it was not clear whether a criminal complaint had been filed.
KISA said the issue was not just about criminal charges but getting the passport back in the hands of the worker, who has the legal right to remain in lawfully in the Republic and seek employment elsewhere.
“I just don’t get it, how police officers can put up with this kind of attitude from employers, they must have called him up like four times,” Polykarpou said, adding that officers did not give the migrant any written proof after making a statement.
Similar stories have emerged about employers having or seeking to have leverage over their workers, including the illegal retention of passports and other personal documents.
Retention of passports is illegal in Cyprus
It is not lawful for employers in the Republic of Cyprus to demand or keep the passports of their foreign workers or foreign domestic workers, except for a brief time if they wish to make photocopies for their records.
“But if you are a foreign worker and your boss asks you to give them your passport for safe keeping, most of the workers would not refuse because they don’t want to start life in Cyprus on the wrong foot,” Polykarpou said.
KISA’s post on Facebook described the case as an example of “abuse and ill-treatment by employers, the immigration authorities and the police in Cyprus.”
“One year without income, right to work, resident permit, access to health care, recovery of his pending salaries… but we will easily blame him as “abusers” of the system!” KISA wrote.