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).
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.