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Workers' complaints about being denied overtime pay, wages and job leave guaranteed by law rose this year to the highest level in four years, the Labor Department said. Penalties for violations and awards of back wages fell.

The department's Wage and Hour Division received 31,786 worker complaints in the federal budget year that ended Sept. 30. That compared with 31,123 complaints in 2003.

The increase came as the department was putting in place overtime rules that Democrats warned would strip rights to premium pay for millions of workers. The Bush administration said that more than 100,000 workers, but not millions, could lose overtime pay rights.

Wage and Hour Administrator Al Robinson said a growing work force accounted for much of the increase in worker complaints about overtime pay, minimum wage, child labor and Family Medical Leave Act violations.

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