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Blurred defocused abstract background of people walking on the street in Orchard Road in Singapore - Crowded city center during rush hour in urban business area zebra crossing - View from building top (Photo by View Apart from Shutterstock.com)

MOM says people are working fewer hours in Singapore – but still more than in Japan

According to latest Ministry of Manpower (MOM) report on the labour market in Singapore, residents in Singapore clocked in 44.9 hours of paid work (standard work hours and paid overtime) per week on average compared to 46.2 hours in 2010. In terms of overtime, workers in Singapore logged 2.9 hours per week this year compared to 3.7 in 2010.

Now, the annual average of paid hours worked remained stagnant between 2010 and 2014, so the decline of work hours really only started in 2014 when it dropped by 0.2 hours the previous year. Technically, that only a decline of 12 minutes.

In terms of the usual hours worked – referring to the number of hours that a person works in a typical week whether paid or not – residents logged an average of 43.2 hours in 2018, down 3.4 hours from 2010 (46.6). In terms of full-time comapred to part-time employees, full-timers worked a total of 45.9 hours per week in 2018 while part-times worked an average of 20.6 hours per week. In 2010, those numbers were 49.2 and 21.6 hours respectively. Since 2010, the average number of usual hours worked has been on a slow but steady decline.

The MOM said that the downtrend in average hours worked is a result of the growing prevalence of part-time work, changes in job composition with more employees working as professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMET), as well gains in productivity via technological advancements.

Although it seems that on average, people in Singapore are working fewer hours, it had been previously reported that certain professions still end up working extremely long hours, well above the national average. Based on MOM’s third quarter report, employees in the transport equipment manufacturing worked 51.3 paid hours per week, the longest among all industries.

One lawyer quoted by Straits Times said that she sometimes worked from 9am to 2 or 3am the next day when trying to keep up with court deadlines. This lawyer, known only as Ms Ho had noted that her peers were of the view that in order to live a healthier lifestyle, they’d had to leave their profession altogether.

In that same article, Straits Times deferred to sociologist Dr Paulin Straughan from the National University of Singapore about MOM’s 2017 labour market report that said the average hours worked by employees in Singapore continued to decrease. Dr Straughan said that thought the government had introduced initiatives to lessen total work hours per week, not all professions can implement those initiatives due to the nature of their work.

Some group of employees, such as front-line officers, are required to be at their workplace and cannot work remotely. So for them, Dr Straughan suggested providing flexible timing to allow them a couple of hours off in the middle of the day when have errands to run.

As an example, Dr Straughan talked about school teachers. “If they have some free time during the day when they are not teaching, it should be fine for them to use that time to run errands and attend to matters. They should not have to stay in school the entire time if they are already clocking such long hours.”

So really, while the total average of actual hours worked per week by employees in Singapore has been on a steady decline for the past 5 years, it’s not true for all industries.

And when comparing to other countries, Singapore residents work a total of 2,366 hours per year in 2016, which is significantly more than other countries that are infamous for their long work hours such as South Korea (2,069 hours) and Japan (1,713 hours) in that same year.

There have also been other reports that are contrary to MOM’s report. A Working Hours Survey by recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley in 2016 showed that many Singaporeans worked much longer hours than their contracted amount while almost 90% weren’t paid for overtime.

Another survey in 2016 by the Families For Life found that one in 10 of their respondents spends fewer than 6 hours with their family per week, citing long work hours as their main reason.