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10 November 2014

Know Your Employment Rights

10 November 2014

What happens when overtime allowance is underpaid or work done on public holidays is not paid? Join Dawn Ong, an Employment Inspector from MOM to find out!

William was shocked when I told him how he was short-changed for his wages. For every overtime (OT) hour that he toiled in his employer’s kitchen as an assistant chef, he should have been paid $17.30 instead of $10. Worse, he was not paid extra for working on a public holiday!

It wasn’t that shocking for me though. Throughout my two years as an Employment Inspector, I’ve encountered both employers and employees who have a very rudimentary understanding of their employment rights and obligations. This is where my team and I come in: we conduct inspections to investigate infringements against the Employment Act (EA). In the process, we help to educate employers and employees about the basic terms of employment. For instance:

Did you know that OT work (i.e. work performed beyond 8 hours a day or 44 hours a week) should be paid at 1.5 times the hourly basic rate of pay?

Did you know that for work done on a public holiday, you should be given an additional day’s salary or a day off-in-lieu?

Ignorance is not bliss in this case, especially when you are the sole breadwinner of a family of four like William. Thankfully, I managed to reach out to William and his colleague Calvin that day…

We spring a surprise visit


The restaurant was dimly lit, with no one in sight. I was wondering if this was going to be a wasted trip. We had gotten a tip-off about this restaurant not complying with the EA, so we paid an unannounced visit at 5pm. While we wouldn’t expect a welcome party, we always kept our fingers crossed that we wouldn’t face closed shutters.

Luckily, after waiting for a few minutes, we spotted the restaurant supervisor. She was reluctant to let us interview the employees as it was close to the restaurant’s operating hours for dinner. It took us 10 minutes to explain the purpose of our checks to her and show proof that we were Employment Inspectors before she relented. 

William: underpaid and unaware

I spoke to employees William and Calvin. William, a Singaporean assistant chef, was a breeze to interview as he was forthcoming with details about his employment conditions. He shared that on average, he performed 10 hours of overtime work in a week, drawing a basic monthly salary of $2,200. He was paid $10 per hour for OT work. While he was given a weekly rest day, William was required to work on public holidays, for which he was not paid. 

We quickly pieced the information together and saw where William’s employer had breached the EA provisions:

Employment Act (EA) provisions
What William should have gotten
What William Received
OT Pay 
$11.53 (hourly basic rate of pay) x 1.5

$10 per OT hour
Work done on a Public Holiday
An additional day’s basic salary
(an additional $11.53 x 8hrs)

None

The underpayment of wages also meant that there was under-contribution of his CPF by William’s employer. William was visibly relieved when I assured him that MOM would follow up with his employer to ensure that he and his colleagues were paid the correct rate of OT payment and due CPF contributions. This would lighten his burden of supporting his family expenses, he told me. In addition, I shared with William about the formula provided under the Employment Act to calculate OT payment – something he had not known:


Calvin: underpaid but more informed


Calvin, a Singaporean kitchen helper, was similarly underpaid for his OT hours and CPF contributions for his work. Having worked for more than five years in the F&B industry, Calvin had experienced his fair share of good and bad bosses. In fact, one of his former employers had failed to pay his salary, but Calvin was savvy enough to seek help from MOM. He successfully filed a salary claim against his former employer to recover his salary arrears, which amounted to about $2,000. He then spread the word about seeking redress with MOM’s help to his colleagues and friends, and even accompanied a colleague to MOM Services Centre to assist him with filing his claims!  

Dawn and team: Calling it a day…not!

Our checks at the restaurant did not end there. The case appeared serious enough to warrant penalties against the employer, so we needed to further assess the case back in office, which would involve scrutiny of employment records and audit forms. Nonetheless, we advised the employer to immediately rectify practices that clearly breached the EA.

Doing our part to help workers

Like fellow Employment Inspector Carlson Yuen, helping workers get what they deserve for their hard work is what makes my job gratifying and meaningful. As you can see from William and Calvin’s accounts, having some awareness of your rights and knowing where to get help from can make a world of difference. I hope more Singaporean workers can take one step further by being informed about the EA and what it provides for them. Some employers are also unfamiliar with their obligations under the EA, and unknowingly short-change their employees. Hence, education is important for both employers and employees.

That said, MOM and CPF Board have stepped up efforts to raise awareness of employment rights and obligations through the “WorkRight” campaign.  Have you seen the WorkRight advertisements? :) 

"I Know My Employment Rights" is an educational campaign under the “WorkRight” initiative that aims to increase awareness among low-wage workers about their basic statutory employment benefits.

Remember how William and Calvin’s case started from a tip-off? If you come across employees not receiving their CPF or are being denied their employment rights, please call the WorkRight hotline (1800-221-9922) or e-mail workright@mom.gov.sg to alert us so that we can ensure that employees are given what they are due.


Dawn Ong
Employment Inspector
Standards Compliance Department
Labour Relations & Workplaces Division

Dawn has been working as an Employment Inspector for two years. Her team investigates cases of non-compliance with the Employment Act for low-wage sectors such as Food & Beverage (F&B), retail, cleaning and security. She says, “Although I may not hold the most interesting job in the world, I truly like what I do. I feel fortunate that the work that I do benefits the low-wage workers.”
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