One of the five principles supporting fair employment practices dictates that employers should abide by labour laws and adopt the Tripartite Guidelines on Fair Employment Practices.
Some employers try to wriggle out of their legal commitment to pay their staff fairly by playing with the wording in the employment legislation.
Reading the Employment Act, my understanding of the use of "44 hours in one week" and, in the case of part-time workers, "33 hours in one week" is to let workers get sufficient rest so they will not be overworked.
However, some employers who let their employees - contracted on a 5½-day work week - work only one Saturday a month, tend to hang on to the idea that their employees owe the company the hours of work unfulfilled on the Saturdays they did not work.
These employers refuse to pay their workers for work done beyond their official weekday work hours.
They even give terms such as "extended time" instead of "overtime" to try to give the impression that workers clocking work beyond their daily normal working hours can claim payment only if the work hours they are claiming "extend" beyond the 44 hours (or 33 hours for part-time workers) in a week.
Such employers' argument is that since Saturdays are considered working days and their workers' total working hours add up to 44 hours (33 hours for part-time workers) per week, their workers' overtime work is included in their basic pay and hence does not qualify for payment.
The Ministry of Manpower's website defines overtime work as "all work in excess of the normal hours of work (excluding breaks)".
This definition lets some employers get away with their own interpretation of overtime as all work in excess of the normal 44 hours (33 hours for part-time workers) of work in a week. This practice is pronounced in places where there is no union representation.
Only recently did the Ministry of Manpower's website define overtime work as "work that exceeds a part-time employee's normal daily working hours". However, this definition appears only in the part-time employee's section.
In legislating the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices guidelines, perhaps the Government should give a clear definition of overtime work so that employers do not get room to wriggle out of their employment obligations.