Why do Singaporeans work such long hours?

Let me rant – I was frustrated. Very frustrated and – and somewhat impressed – after getting into a slight argument with my property manager in Melbourne.

I just landed and I thought it would be courteous to let her know I’ll be late. The woman insisted that their office closes at 5pm, no more or less, and I would be left homeless for a night because of these few minutes of lateness.

I lost the argument, I had to put up in a hotel.

Truth be told, though, 5pm is relatively late for many office jobs in Melbourne. I was taking note of the amenities and features of my new neighbourhood, and there’s a police station right across the street from me. Yes, even law enforcers end work at 4pm, somewhat of the norm for many workers there, with work hours usually being around 8am to 4pm.


This is in such contrast to the familiar sight of many Singaporeans workers slogging late into the night. That’s not to say Singaporeans are vastly overworked, but it’ll be rare if a person leaves on the dot every day.

Sometimes people stick around in the office, just because it is the culture to. “Oh go home early means very free…aiyo I better stay later”, some people think.

Here’s another thing that struck me about the differences between Singapore and Australia. For starters, consumables are a little more expensive in Melbourne (a bottle of one litre mineral water these days cost between A$3.50 to A$6 at a petrol station) but the saving grace is that workers enjoy sectorial minimum wage (that is a different minimum wage for different industries).


I’ll be starting university in Melbourne next year, and as an international student, I am allowed to work a maximum of 40 hours every fortnight. Working the same hours at around S$6.50 (the average pay that most part-time jobs these days offer), I’ll only be able to make around S$260 in two weeks.

Melbourne’s average minimum wage is around A$16.87 per hour. That’s A$674.80 for the same amount of work. Working just 20 hours a week, your monthly pay would be even more than what some people earn in Singapore for a full-time job.

Now, that is not to say that Singapore doesn’t have minimum wage.

The Progressive Wage is Singapore’s version of the minimum wage. Like Australia, it is minimum wage by sector and the progressive wage goes further: it enforces the increase of salary beyond the minimum, and into progressing wages through an employer’s career.

But on the topic of wages, it is also of interest to note the taxes Australians pay. In OZ, salaries of up to $18k doesn’t attract tax.

Only when you earn the first $37k, are you taxed at 19% and 32.5% on the second tier (up to $80k).

Comparatively, it is very high as compared to Singapore. Over here, we pay 3.5% (on $40k) and 7% (on $80k).

What I’m trying to drive at really, is the working hours. Australian employers and employees together respect the hours of work and rest. Asians on the other hand have a morbid need to have “face time”.


With the culture of long hours – will anyone be able to keep trying for a baby? Even if people are productive enough to reproduce, most parents will be reluctant to leave their kids with someone else for a third of their waking hours while they work.

It all really boils down to the fact that we’re at work for longer, in order to earn the same amount, leaving many people too tired to even have a life after work. Little wonder why Singaporeans are one of the most unhappiest workers in the world.

Who’s to blame? The system or ourselves?







  1. Welcome down under. Soon enough you’ll realise the reason a whole lot upped and go from the little red dot.

    Liberal democracies aren’t perfect, but I think a lot of us are finding Australia quite the unexpected paradise. I’ve been here for more than 5 years, never heading back at this rate.

    Enjoy your studies mate!

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