Patrick Tay on OT pay for white-collar workers

I had the opportunity to have a chat with Patrick Tay, Director of NTUC’s Legal Services Department and MP for Nee Soon GRC about a post I wrote earlier, where a boutique manager managed to claim full rate OT pay from her employer in spite of what was written in her contract.

He agreed that the lady was due the compensation, and told me of two cases in the past where an entry-level accountant and a lecturer managed to claim OT pay.

The upcoming changes to the Employment Act (effective 1 April 2014), will extend these rights to workers earning under $2,500 a month (although anyone earning over $2,250 will have their OT pay rate calculated based on $2,250). That means a lot more people will also be covered by the Act.

Off hand, I can think of a bunch of designers, junior accountants, folks in retail, F&B and maybe even some legal folks who pull far more than 44 hours a week for less than $2,500 a month.

Even if you have a title with the word “executive” in it, the law still protects you. Many employers like to say that “executives” cannot claim OT, but this is false. Mr Tay said that “If you’re not holding substantial managerial responsibilities, you should be covered by EA.”

That’s good news for a lot of us, as log as everyone knows and follows the law.

The law is one thing, but what to do about your labour rights is yet another. Mr Tay says that the first step would definitely be to talk to your employer about the situation – some of them just aren’t aware of the law. If it is possible to get your employer to play ball with the law, then it’s best for everyone. The next thing then would be to find a way to get your work hours on record so that you have something to base the OT calculations on.

If your employer won’t play ball, you’ll have to decide on whether you want to keep working there. Either way, you’ll want to find some way to prove how many hours you’ve worked each week – timesheets, punch cards, emails, and other records (or even an employment contract showing your minimum working hours). Maybe even the testimony of a colleague or two.

At least with those in hand, you’ll be able to bring your case to MOM, or fight it in court like Ms Monteverde did. If you’re an NTUC member, you could even get some legal help from Patrick Tay and his team.

Why do they call entry-level office workers “executives”?

“Your title says executive. Executives can’t claim OT”

At some point in our history, employers decided that it would be great to change the title of some of the lowest-end office workers to “executive”. Perhaps this was based on the utterly false assumption that they could be made to work overtime with no pay, as “Professionals, Managers and Executives” are not protected by Part IV of the Employment Act, which governs overtime pay, among other things.

One thing that may come as a surprise to many of us is that it is not binding to stipulate more than 44 base work hours a week for office workers earning under $2,000 ($2,500 in April). OT pay is 1.5x your hourly rate, and you can figure it all out with MOM’s calculator here.

You see a REAL PME is defined by the Employment Act as someone with “the authority to influence or make decision on issues such as recruitment, discipline, termination of employment, assessment of performance and reward, or involvement in the formulation of strategies and policies of the enterprise, or the management and running of the business”.

That’s not most of us entry-level folks.

I think it’s best if we kill this myth now and set the record straight.

This proposed law is so draconian, it’s funny

The latest bill to add ‘security’ to Little India in the wake of the Little India Riot is draconian (although some argue it is necessary). Whatever it is, it’s utterly hilarious. I couldn’t stop laughing.

I’m not here to debate whether its one-year duration is too long or too short, or whether it is a step down from the even-more-draconian Public Order (Preservation) Act. I’m here for the lulz.

For one, it gives police the power to strip search anyone in Little India on the pretext of finding the dangerous and frequently banned substance that causes riots – alcohol.

“Is that a bottle of beer in your pants, or are you just happy to see me?”

I burst out in giggles when I thought about the possible scenarios that would mandate a strip search for alcohol.

*Man waddling through Little India.
“Sir, stop. Are you carrying any alcohol?”
“Naw whey, offischer, deff’nutly not at dish hour…”
“Ok, we’re going to pat you down and search you.”
*pat *pat *pat
“Hm, only found these receipts for 4 bottles of Black Cat whiskey, timestamped from 12 minutes ago. Where’s the Whiskey?”
“Sherioushly, sir, I dunnave any wishkey on me.”
“We’re going to do an anal cavity search. Bend over.”
*uncomfortable silence
“What’s this 750ml bottle doing up your rectum?! Trying to smuggle it into Little India is it? Are the other three up there also? Out with it! Don’t make me go in there!”

People really, really, really want to sneak alcohol into Little India now that there’s a “general prohibition” in place. It’s so rogue, and rogue is vogue.

Also, certain troublemaking people can also be banned from Little India. What are the police going to do? Fence it up and establish checkpoints? Issue residents with passes? Isn’t a Little India troublemaker still a troublemaker anywhere else? You can imagine the games of hide and seek and catching that are going to be played over this.

So fun.

Welcome, Anton Casey, to Social Media 101 (3 credits)

Someone just learned that social media is public, even when it is set to private. The case of Anton Casey has shown that nothing is hidden online.

1. “Private” on social media is still public

In response to this event, sites like mothership.sg have tried to be helpful, offering advice like “The moral of the story? Always set your Facebook account to private.” Great advice! Online privacy! Of course, that’s utterly impractical. Facebook is not for privacy. If you want privacy, you write your thoughts down in a hard copy diary, in a personal language you invented, with a complex cipher. Then you burn the diary. Then you eat the ashes.

Facebook is for showing off your rants and getting affirmation in return. Facebook is the gamification of popularity. When you want to be publicly private about your latest bitchfit, you go to Facebook and set it to “friends”. Safe, we think.

2. Social media has been gamified – ‘friends’ are not friends

Guess what, Mr Casey thought that too, and was wrong. A good look at the screenshot of his offensive posts shows the sharing set to “friends” – perfectly typical for anyone’s “private” posts.

Guess his 'friends' were really his enemies.
Guess his ‘friends’ were really his enemies.

Someone in his ‘friends’ list took offense, and that’s not surprising if you’re a popular guy with lots of money and a wide social circle, as Mr Casey probably is. Anton Casey called it a “security breach” in his apology on the sgtalk forum. Ha! Security breach! In the way that “I left my wallet and phone on the table and went to the toilet” is a security breach.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 1.17.00 am

It’s a ‘security breach’ only as much as Casey thinks Facebook is a bank vault.

3. The Internet will find you

Privacy is a myth. In the Internet age, determined people with vast resources (like the police, or the CIA) can track you down and find out all sorts of crap about you online. In fact, bored people with nothing better to do with their time and no resources other than a broadband connection can do just as well these days, as mega troll account SMRT Limited (Feedback) CSI-ed Casey’s profile, work email, boss’ work email, address, mobile number, and the sense (from some of his Facebook posts) that he behaves like quite an ass online (like many of us).

Knowing that everyone around you could potentially know all about everything you hold dear is a great security for good online behaviour.

Being an ass is a statutory right in the Internet age.

4. The Internet never forgets

In fact, you can see that the poor fellow already tried to change his FB name to “Anson Stasey”, but the Internet never forgets (his FB URL still said “anton.casey”) and the poor little rich guy eventually deleted his Facebook account. And his Twitter account. And his wife’s Facebook account. His work email is probably flooded with threats too.

 

5. Mind the trolls, watch for rabid wolves

The Internet is everyone’s new second home (first home for some). That includes entitled mockers like Casey, bigger trolls like SMRT Limited (Feedback) and some outright liars and twisters of the truth, like that-website-that-shall-not-be-named, which propagated a Youtube video Casey apparently made and uploaded weeks before the incident and tried to pass it off as taunting Singaporeans in the wake of the FB expose (when in fact Casey was probably mocking someone else).

As in life, there’s always a bigger fish. Online, there’s always a bigger bully. Everyone who wants to die of old age must watch his own words and steps online, offend only those he/she can afford to offend, and only to a degree that he/she can afford to offend them. The most offhanded comment, taken out of context and twisted grotesquely, can draw a frenzied crowd of bloodthirsty online zombies.

Welcome to Social Media 101. It’s a jungle out there.

Do deep pockets win IP lawsuits?

Mobilestats Technologies is dropping their patent lawsuit against MINDEF, citing a lack of funds. Dr Mak Koon Hou and Dr Ting Choon Meng claimed that their vehicular “Station With Immediate First-Aid Treatment” was copied by MINDEF vendor Syntech Engineers. Dr Ting is director of Mobilestats.

According to reports, the patent for the mobile first-aid station had been filed in 2001, and was awarded by IPOS. SCDF paid Mobilestats royalties for using the invention and rolled out its vehicles in 2004. MINDEF had apparently approached Mobilestats about the patent as well, but nothing came of that discussion.

MINDEF moved to revoke the patent following the lawsuit, claiming that the invention contained “no inventive step” and was “not capable of industrial application”.

Said Dr Ting of the dropped suit, “I’m not a bottomless pit. It’s very intimidating. They (MINDEF) have three sets of lawyers. For my case, only Dr. Mak and myself are funding MobileStats’ legal costs. If they want to chase us for costs, the company may have to wind up.”

So it seems that in Singapore, a patent is not worth much at all if you don’t have the finances to fight for it in court. Depending on the duration and complexity of the case, many companies could find themselves incapable of defending their own patents if someone with deeper pockets decided to copy them.

Having been 10 years in the creative industry, I’ve had my fair share of ideas stolen from me. Sometimes it’s hard to prove, like when a potential client you pitched a concept to selects another agency and runs with that exact same line of copy you wrote. Sometimes it’s blatant, when another site steals your article wholesale and makes money off advertising.

It’s hard to protect creative ideas. It’s barely worth applying for any form of formal protection and you usually just let the perpetrators get away with it and move on. You do so especially because you know you can’t afford to fight the good fight: financially, that is.

The horrible irony of the whole thing is that Dr Ting also sits on the board of IPOS, and will be resigning that position, following his failure to defend his own patent.

This woman got the Court to overrule MOM and pay her full-rate overtime

Congratulations to everyman heroine Ms Monteverde, who got the Singapore High Court to overturn a Ministry of Manpower (MOM) tribunal ruling on the overtime pay she was due from her employer.

The fundamental issue was that she was a worker whose rights are protected under the Employment Act (EA). Apart from workmen earning less than $4,500 a month and most non-workmen earning under $2,000 a month. Starting 1 April, 2014, non-PME non-workmen earning under $2,500 a month will also be fully covered by the revised Act (thanks in no small part to the recent work done by Labour MPs).

Does your employer owe you OT pay you don't know about?

Does your employer owe you OT pay you don’t know about?

The then-boutique supervisor’s employer had initially declined to pay her for some 96 hours of overtime work. The MOM tribunal (an Assistant Commissioner for Labour) presiding over her claim awarded her only $479. She took the case to the High Court, which demanded that her employer, VGO Corp, pay her the full value of her overtime based on her basic pay of $1,900 a month.

Ms Monteverde came away with the full $1,435, having represented herself in court.

This was in spite of the fact that her employment contract stated that she would work “up to 60 hours” a week. You see, it is illegal for a worker covered by the EA to be contracted to work more than 44 hours a week.

Frankly, the real surprise is that MOM didn’t award her the correct amount to begin with. It’s an appalling misreading of their own laws, or perhaps MOM was giving the employer more than what was due? How could a MOM tribunal make such a fundamental error? Have other workers over the years been similarly shortchanged by MOM tribunals who failed to follow the law? It is good that the courts cleared it up this time, and with a firm precedent set, it will be easier for underpaid workers to make the right claims in future.

Interestingly enough, only the Straits Times (out of all the English dailies) picked up on this case, which is quite a defining one, given the recent changes to the Employment Act and the fact that many lower-salaried white-collar workers will be covered by the revised Employment Act come April.

Among many other things, most entry-level employees earning under $2,000 ($2,500 come April) a month have the right to:

  • A basic 44-hour work week and 8-hour work day (hours in excess of 44 are considered overtime, and are paid at 1.5 times the basic monthly salary rate of a 44-hour week)
  • A maximum of 72 hours of overtime in a month (barring Government exemptions)
  • One full rest day every week (with some exemptions)

I know that NTUC is often a running joke when it comes to labour rights, but joining a union isn’t expensive, and if you had to bring your case to court, as Ms Monteverde did, NTUC could support you with legal aid if you were a union member. Also, supermarket discounts!

I’ll try to get a legal eye on how the changes to the EA will work on the ground – look out for a more detailed report soon on how you could check if you have been cheated of overtime pay.

9-ish ways that MDA’s, you know, Breakfast Network “thingie” is, like, vague. Yeah.

When the sole owner of then-Breakfast Network Pte Ltd (BNPL), Bertha Henson, said that MDA’s handling of the Breakfast Network registration saga had been vague, MDA announced: “We object to this.” Bertha also called the proceedings “farcical”, but MDA didn’t refute that.

Ace Attorney objects.
(image: cdn.cultofmac.com)

Let’s take a look at some of the stickier points of this farce:

1) MDA’s forms required that the “editorial team” involved in the “provision, management and/or operation of the website sign the undertaking”, including pro-bono members. Now, almost anyone in publishing knows that junior writers (and even interns) are part of the “editorial team”. MDA then said that “volunteer contributors” don’t need to sign the forms. No, MDA, that doesn’t make it clear.

2) MDA’s forms required that these members of the “editorial team” undertake not to receive foreign funding. In which Singaporean company is the editorial team in charge of funding decisions? Funding is decided by Directors, and sometimes by CEOs and CFOs. The editorial team produces content – so why is the editorial team responsible for something they have no control over?

3) Now that BNPL doesn’t exist anymore, why is MDA so interested in who is running the Breakfast Network Facebook Fan page? (go “like” it if you haven’t!) Obviously BNPL isn’t running it anymore – it doesn’t even exist! Is MDA planning to clamp down on non-companies too? Individuals?

4) Now that BNPL doesn’t exist, can an individual re-launch the Breakfast Network website as a personal project? MDA is still completely vague on this.

5) How is a Pte Ltd company more susceptible to receiving and being influenced by “foreign funding” than an individual or other entity? This has been the backbone of MDA’s rationale for licensing registration, but it doesn’t make any sense. You’d think it was easier for a sinister foreign spy network to bribe/drug/kidnap/buy free breakfast for an individual blogger. Now BNPL has turned back into a bunch of individual bloggers.

6) MDA said that the “registration requirement seeks to uphold the principle that politics must remain a matter for Singapore and Singaporeans alone”. This hasn’t been the case. andyxianwong’s blog goes in-depth about the xenophobia/hypocrisy and points to a political agenda.

7) Why did MDA single out TISG and Breakfast Network for registration, why not other more insidious, illegal and damaging sites that are making money off advertising already?

8) Why did MDA make last-minute amendments to its Class Licensing Form C, especially in the light of an impending change to the Broadcasting Act in parliament? Its initial correspondence to BNPL said that even the registration reporting conditions were subject to change. Change to what? Why now?

9) MDA’s description of itself:

About Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA)

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (www.mda.gov.sg) promotes the growth of globally competitive film, television, radio, publishing, music, games, animation and interactive digital media industries. It also regulates the media sector to safeguard the interests of consumers, and promotes a connected society. MDA is a statutory board under the Ministry of Communications and Information (www.mci.gov.sg).

Way to #fail.