Fair Work

My workers are on a 38 hours work week award. Under the law here, an employer must not request or require an employee to work beyond their 38 hours unless the additional hours are "reasonable." How to determine if it is reasonable to ask a worker to work over-time? There is a list of factors to be taken into account, as I found out;

  • any risk to employee health and safety
  • the employee’s personal circumstances, including family responsibilities
  • the needs of the workplace or enterprise
  • whether the employee is entitled to receive overtime payments, penalty rates or other compensation for 
  • (or a level of remuneration that reflects an expectation of ) working additional hours
  • any notice given by the employer to work the additional hours
  • any notice given by the employee of his or her intention to refuse to work the additional hours
  • the usual patterns of work in the industry
  • the nature of the employee’s role and the employee’s 
  • level of responsibility
  • whether the additional hours are in accordance 

As it goes, there are plenty of each party to argue for their cases. From the way I look at it, an employee here has a lot more rights behind them to say, 'No,' to being overworked. A simple, "I feel tired," or "I need to be at home to take care of the baby." would suffice with no questions asked, over-riding whatever crap such as the needs of the workplace and we'll be allowed to go with no repercussions. The employer will usually get their way when overtime payments is dished out because some of us wouldn't mind a bit more money in the pocket. Still they would have to ask nicely.

One of my workers came to me and posed a request. He suggested changing his 38 hours work week to a 40 hours work week so that he could earn a bit more. He was willing to be paid normal rates for that additional 2 hours, instead of the 1.5x wage he would otherwise be entitled to. He would effectively have an "increment" and the company would pay a lot lesser in the long run for those extra hours. It was a win-win situation, he felt.

I consulted the boss on that but to my surprise he rejected it flatly, stating that it was illegal to do so without going through some legal arrangement and he wouldn't want to go through the hassle so he would prefer to stick to the current award of the workers and rather pay overtime rates if the circumstances require of us. You have not read it wrong. Rather pay overtime rates. As we know, labour is expensive in Australia. That makes overtime rates even more painful than it is, for the employer at least. So why would the boss rather pay? Whatever the reasons, it dawned on me these deterring factors actually protects workers from being exploited the way I saw it happening from the country I came from where we had plenty of chances to work overtime due to "patterns of work," "needs of the workplace," or "the level of responsbility," but often with inadequate or no compensation, usually with little or no advance notice given as well. When I said advance, I mean in terms of days.

I saw the effects of overtime compensations first hand. The boss and office manager were always reluctant to ask the factory to work overtime unless absolute necessity. Numerous jobs were quoted with overtime charges in mind when we knew we had to stay behind to slog it out. We probably lost many jobs but we won a fair share as well because the competitors were unable or unwilling to work overtime for it. Slowly, we were making a name for ourselves for being quicker than the competitors, though not necessarily cheaper. 

Though it was depressing that we didn't seem to expand, we could keep ourselves small, mobile and responsive. If we kept that up, we could find ourselves having more work than we could handle but that would be a happy problem. Compare that to an ever-expanding model. It is true that size reaps the benefits of the economy of scale but it also keeps the pressure of increasing the sales volume year on year, worse if a company gets listed because shareholders' thirst for ever increasing stock value or higher dividends are insatiable. I can't help but wonder on a macro scale, why should a small country take on the world like a big company instead of keeping ourselves so good, so responsive that we will still be relevant to the rest of the world. Although there has been a notion (which probably some truths in it as well) that hyper-marts are killing small businesses, small businesses are still popping up, surviving, some even flourishing. There is always a choice left. I don't believe there is only one way to go. At the rate we are deskilling and cheapening ourselves, it's a matter of time we became a tourism and vice hub, lots of money but no soul.


  1. Does the overtime pay apply to teachers? Does working and marking at home constitute overtime?

  2. I like your last line. Singapore's soul is dying. Once the baby boomers sre gone, this island will just become an empty heartless playground for the rich and connected.

  3. On second thoughts, we are almost there.......

  4. I like your last line. Singapore's soul is dying. Once the baby boomers sre gone, this island will just become an empty heartless playground for the rich and connected.

  5. I've grown to hate certain phrases in SG uttered by many Singaporean bosses - bo pian, SG is like that..there's no choice but to work harder and longer...SG market is like that, so suck thumb/toe/other anatomical protrusions.

    Choice ultimately rests in the individual. Don't let it be taken from us, and even more importantly, don't let our spirits be crushed. My way of showing the middle finger to this system and standing up to this "bo pian" work culture? Simple...my subclass 189 visa should be due soon :d

  6. There are various versions of the 38 hour week award and it can be more flexible in certain industries than others.

    1: Strictly 38 hour week, which is why some people work 8 am to 4.06 pm (30 min unpaid meal time, 2 x 15 min paid tea break depending on union award) or some variants if tea break are unpaid.

    2: Work 40 hour week, paid 38 hour week, 2 hour per week accured time in lieu (4 week = 1 day off)

    3. 76 hour fortnight in shiftwork, between 6 -12 hours shifts, if essential services like ambulance or nursing, extra pay loading on hours, but still end up 76 hours fortnight. Essential services have included 1 -2 day extra annual leave since it is almost certain they will work some of the public holidays each year.

    All these people can work overtime if they want to; some of them may be paid normal time (if they agree to it contractually) but most will be paid extra overtime loading depending on industries.

    Because of overtime costs:

    a. cheaper to hire experienced casuals or over extra work to part-timers (who will not attract overtime loading)

    b. overtime is offered to certain people who they know can work and not wayang.

    c. overtime is sometime offered as time-in-lieu, 1 hr work = 1 hr off, or 1 hr work = 1.5 or 2 hr off. This is especially good for employers who hired full time regular staff but has seasonal or fluctuating work load.

    Regarding your colleague requesting 2 extra normal hours, it is partially true that there is a lot of paperwork if they want to formalised the arrangement.

    But really all they need to do is to offer casual normal-pay-rate overtime every week, he just have to say yes to that every week. Although there is some law that says the worker is entitled to extra loading in any work overtime more than 38 hour week, what it really means is that the worker can say no to overtime that pays normal rate, NOT that the overtime rate must be more than normal rate.


    The actual reason may very well be that the extra 2 hours paid to the worker may not gain any more productivity than if there is no extra 2 hour, especially if the work is as a team. There is no way anyone can check you are working full capacity or even can work if the rest of your mates are not there to complete the work. That's why overtime in certain industries is offered to a group or a team since even one man less means the work cannot be completed properly to justify the extra costs.

    Your boss obviously doesnt deal with much Asian competitors in Australia, these Asian SMEs are likely to offer overtime at normal pay (which can be very legal in Australia inspite of what you seem to think, Nix).

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  8. Here its 44 hours per week. I used to clock more than 50 extra hours on top of 44 hrs per week with no off days. It's been going on for years like that. When you made some work mistakes due to tireness or loss of concentration they penalise you. When you point this fact of over work to them they say you are paid overtime. But then we are helping out due to service exigency. They refused to take that into account. It's a dirty system throughout our first world economy with cheap 3rd world labour law standards. That's a sad fact here. It's a ruthless market economy lah!

  9. In sg, the gov is always on the side of the business owners. Many have to work more than 50 hours without any overtime pay. btw, if your staff want to earn more, he can look for another parttime / weekend/ odd job. That is legal.

  10. This is certainly not true for a FIFO workers. Assuming three weeks on and 12 hours day and maybe a break of a day in a week, he is clocking 12*6 = 72 hours per week.

  11. Hey, Just wanted to update you, got my invitation to lodge, super exited :-D

  12. Your silence is worrying, i hope all is ok with you and your family, looking forward to hear from you soon.