Major Teoh’s Blog

January 16, 2007

What is Manual Labour?

Filed under: Industrial Relations — Major (Rtd) Teoh @ 6:05 am

What is Manual Labour?

By Major (Rtd) Teoh

The Employment Act 1955 does not describe nor attempt to provide a detail description or definition of manual labour. It is quite silent on this matter.

In the First Schedule [Section 2 (1)] there is a feeble attempt to describe manual labour and skirts on its border. In doing so, it has included artisans and apprentices under manual labour.

In this schedule too, it states that if an employee is employed partly in manual labour and partly in some other capacity, he would be deemed to be performing manual labour if the total time performing manual labour in a wage period exceeds one half of the total time. Simply it means that if an employee spends more time doing manual labour, he is considered as one, manual labour.

How does the court view it?

In  determining whether it is manual in nature or not, the Industrial Court will go through the case with a fine-tooth comb. It will attempt to define manual labour and assess the substantial merit and nature of the job involed. It will determine whether it is a repetitive job requiring no skills, no talents and no specialised knowledge, nor tools to do it. If It only requires only the use of hands and physical strength to execute, it would be deemed to be manual labour.

The following criteria usually point to manual labour, if they are:


“little or no skills”

“no talents”

“no specified knowledge”

“no special tools required”

“little or no training at all”

“no specialisation is required”

“Only requiring the use of hands and physical might”

The above factors are critical because if you do not give these factors due consideration then artists,surgeons, pianists, engineers and the like who also use their hands in the course of their work, will be considered as manual labour but in reality they are not. They come under the category as skilled and specialised workers.

Copyright © 2005 Major (Rtd) Teoh


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