Disguised PMEs shortchanged, says labour MP Patrick Tay

SINGAPORE - What's in a job title? For some PMEs, it can mean being shortchanged.

Labour MP Patrick Tay highlighted in a blog post on Thursday (June 21) that some bosses inflate an employee's job title to avoid paying overtime to them.

He said an estimated 30,000 workers in Singapore are classified as PMEs, an acronym for professionals, managers and executives, but they earn less than $2,500 a month.

One such person is Mr K.Y. Lim, a site engineer in an IT firm.

Mr Lim, 30, whose monthly salary is $2,000, told The Straits Times he was asked to work on two Saturdays last year: in June and in July. He was to help manage his company's projects.

His work contract stipulates an allowance for work done after office hours. But he was not paid for the extra hours.

"Initially, I tried to get my human resource department to clarify my contract but they were not very helpful," he said.

Eventually, he brought his case to the NTUC.

These so-called PMEs, Mr Tay noted, carry out rank-and-file work and do not hold substantive positions of authority, including being able to hire and fire, be in charge of business units and functions, or directly manage and run the business.

But because they are given the title, they are also not entitled to overtime pay under Part IV of the Employment Act, which does not cover PMEs.

Mr Tay also highlighted a recent High Court decision, which found a Bangladeshi worker deployed as a site supervisor not an executive.

Hence, he is entitled to overtime payment for the rest days he worked, as given in Part IV of the Employment Act.

The judge took into account statements the Manpower Ministry made in Parliament recently on changes to the Employment Act.

The Act stated managers and executives are those in a better bargaining position, while Part IV is to protect the more vulnerable employees who are engaged in manual labour or paid lower wages.

The court found a worker in a supervisory role does not of itself make him an executive.

This case, Mr Tay, said, is a stark reminder to all employers and human resource leaders to use the terms "managers and executives" with care and due diligence.

"This is particularly so as some have been known to wrongly classify their workers to avoid them being represented by unions on the basis that they are in a conflicted position with their 'managerial and executive' powers."

More importantly, workers must be aware that they can become union members, he added.

He also urged workers whose employers classify them as PMEs, especially those whose monthly salary is below $2,500, to re-examine their employment contract, job role, scope and powers as they may fall in Part IV of the Act and be entitled to overtime payments.

Mr Tay suggested amending the description of a manager and executive on the MOM's website, by removing mentions of professionals with tertiary education and specialised knowledge. He also called for clear examples of "real" managers and executives whose basic salary is less than $2,500.

Alternatively, he suggested Part IV of the Employment Act cover all who earn $2,500 and below, regardless of whether they are a rank-and-file office worker or a PME.

NTUC had made these suggestions in the latest review of the Employment Act.

"With the exponential growth in PME numbers, I look forward to the day when we will eventually remove this dichotomy between the rank-and-file and PME workers," Mr Tay said.