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Whether the 8 Hours of Work Inclusive or Exclusive of Meal Breaks?

Updated: Oct 17, 2022


Employment Act 1955

s.60A(1) of the Employment Act 1955 reads:


Except as hereinafter provided, an employee shall not be required under his contract of service to work -

  1. More than 5 consecutive hours without a period of leisure of not less than 30 minutes;

  2. More than 8 hours in 1 day;

  3. In excess of a spread over period of ten hours in 1 day;

  4. More than 48 [effective 1.1.2023: 45] hours in 1 week;

Provided that -

  1. an employee who is engaged in work which must be carried on continuously and which requires his continual attendance may be required to work for 8 consecutive hours inclusive of a period or periods of not less than 45 minutes in the aggregate during which he shall have the opportunity to have a meal; and

  2. where, by agreement under the contract of service between the employee and the employer, the number of hours of work on 1 or more days of the week is less than 8, the limit of 8 hours may be exceeded on the remaining days of the week, but so that no employee shall be required to work for more than 9 hours in one day or 48 [effective 1.1.2023: 45] hours in 1 week.

According to Section 60A(1)(b), an employee may not be obliged by his contract of service to work more than 8 hours in a single day, except for the circumstances described in the paragraph.

Whether the 8 hours of work is Inclusive or Exclusive of meal breaks was discussed in Toong Fong Omnibus Co. Bhd. v Transport Workers Union

Section 60A(1)(b) provides that an employee shall not be required to work more than eight hours in one day.


Hence, if an employer requires an employee to work more than eight hours a day, he is legally obliged to pay his employee overtime.


This is clear, and there is no dispute between most companies and employees on this.


The point at issue, however, is whether or not the eight-hour work is inclusive or exclusive of a thirty-minute meal break.


The Union's View



The eight hours of work included a meal break of thirty minutes.


For an employee engaged in work, such work must be carried on continuously.




Reason to Support:

As proviso (i) to Section 60A(1) made a provision for an employee who was engaged in work which must be carried on continuously and which required his continual attendance might be required to work for eight consecutive hours inclusive of a period or periods of not less than forty-five minutes in the aggregate during which he should have the opportunity to have a meal.


The Company's View

The eight hours in one day were exclusive of the thirty minutes meal break because:

"hours of work" had been defined under s 60A(9) as:

  • The time during which an employee is at the employer's disposal and is not free to dispose of his own time and movement. And

  • The workers (in this case, the bus drivers and conductors) had been given scheduled time off for meal breaks.

What the Court Says

Proviso (i) is an exception to section 60A(1) and should be tested.


The Court could not agree with the Union's contention that the proviso to section 60A(1) can be of any assistance to its contention because, as the union has rightly conceded itself, the drivers and conductors are not required to work continuously.


Those workers (in this case, the bus drivers and conductors) have their scheduled breaks for meals, and during these meal breaks, they are free to dispose of their own time and movements.


Thus, the Court held that:

  • The "eight hours in one day", as provided for under section 60A(1)(b) of the Employment Act, is, in the absence of any express provisions to the contrary, exclusive of any meal break.

  • It is clear and unambiguous, and we so hold accordingly.

  • If Parliament intends to include meal breaks into the working hours, it would have expressly said so


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