On the back of reports that labour movement-linked NTUC Foodfare hiked dishwashing fees by a hefty 40 per cent after it took over the Old Airport Road hawker centre, hawkers at the famous food centre have reported that they were made to sign legal documents that they did not understand before the cost increases went into effect.
Old Airport Road hawker centre used to be run by the National Environment Agency (NEA) – a Government statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources – that used to oversee the licensing, management, and regulation of hawkers at all Government-run hawker centres until recently, when the authorities allowed social enterprises to take over certain hawker centres.
Since the Government began allowing social enterprises to run hawker centres, multiple reports of these social enterprises charging hawkers exorbitant fees have emerged, sparking worries that these costs that overtly tax hawkers will be passed to consumers and eventually kill Singapore’s hawker culture.
Today, 13 out of 114 hawker centres across Singapore are managed by five social enterprises: NTUC Foodfare, Fei Siong Food Management, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre Group, OTHM and Hawker Management. OTHM is a subsidiary of Kopitiam – which is set to be sold to NTUC Enterprise by the end of this year – while Hawker Management is a subsidiary of grassroots leader-founded Koufu.
Interestingly, of the 13 hawker centres that social enterprises presently run, NTUC Foodfare runs five which are not new establishments but existing old hawker centres that it took over from the NEA. Old Airport Road hawker centre is one of the existing food centres that NTUC Foodfare took over.
According to a regular patron of the hawker centre, Facebook user Gary Ho, a hawker at Old Airport Road hawker centre lamented about how he feels the recent changes that went into effect after the NTUC Foodfare takeover will kill the hawker culture that is dear to Singaporeans.
Revealing that the hawkers at Old Airport Road hawker centre were allegedly made to sign “ridiculous legal documents” with little explanations or translations about what the documents meant, Ho said that hawkers who asked what they were signing were told “nothing much la” and asked “just to sign” the documents.
According to Ho, the new contract that hawkers signed after the NTUC takeover “mandates that they must stay open for super long hours.”
Besides seeing their cleaning costs rise from over $300 to over $500, hawkers were apparently made to buy mandatory insurance that “covers the public areas outside their stall” and forced to report their movements to the management or risk penalties.
Ho said that the hawker he spoke to indicated that he and his peers are “super grateful” to Makansutra founder KF Seetoh for exposing the plight hawkers face in the new SEHCs.
The hawker said that they are especially thankful to Seetoh since they apparently went to their Member of Parliament and brought up the changes they are forced to deal with but were only met with silence.
In his post that has gone viral with over 3000 reactions and over 300 shares on social media, Ho asserted: “Seriously, you talk about hawker centres being important, (AND THEY ARE!) but you are doing everything possible to make hawkers lives more difficult. Soon there will be no more hawkers left and all the delicious cheap food will go with them. Something is really wrong somewhere.”
Read his full account here:
In case you cannot read the above:
“For those of you who know me well, you know how much I love Old Airport Road Hawker Centre! I take all my foreign friends there and to Kereta Ayer Market.
“When I went there yesterday, one of the hawkers I know very well was lamenting to me how recent changes are going to kill the hawker centre. So, apparently NTUC took over the management of the hawker centre and they were all made to sign ridiculous legal documents in English without a translator informing them what they were signing. When they asked what was the content, the “ang kong kia” said “nothing much lah” and to “just sign”. The hawker told me it is like NTUC hired a bunch of debt collectors to visit them.
“How can you make hawkers sign a legal document with no translation provided???
“The Hawker also mentioned to me that they were made to buy mandatory insurance of $100+ per annum which covers the public areas outside their stall.
“Why are they made to insure the hawker centre??
“Then their monthly cleaning costs rose to $500+ from $300+. This hawker has been there since I was a kid. They have seen it rise from $4 to $80 to $100+ to $300+ last round and now $500+. Stalls that sell mainly takeaway items and have nothing to wash are also charged the same rate now whereas the previous contractor voluntarily gave them a slight discount since they used less resources. When asked if NTUC could continue to give them a discount, silence….
“I know costs have risen but is this profiteering? If the previous contractor could do it at $300+, why the almost doubling of charges?
“The Hawker also told me they are super grateful to Seetoh for bringing everything up because when they mentioned it to their MP, silence…. Their MP was even there at the meeting when all the ridiculous changes were brought up and said nothing.
“Yo, MP, you were voted to represent the people not to keep silent!
“I really got upset when I was told they now need to report their movement to the contractor or face punishments. So this hawker was told they need to inform NTUC whenever they are closing to take leave. When the hawker informed them, they asked the hawker is anyone manning the stall? The hawker replied yes, then they said no need to inform. So they were like, must report also you say, no need to report also you say.
“The new contract they signed also mandates that they must stay open for super long hours. The old hawkers protested to this and are not complying. They said if they force them to open, they might as well close and retire. Their point is very valid. They said why open when there is no one coming? People who make these rules should consult the hawkers since they have been there for ages and know their operating environment well.
“Hawkers are indepent operators. Since when are they now working for NTUC and since when has NTUC become their boss??? Also, how does forcing elderly hawkers into working long hours make things any better?
“Seriously, you talk about hawker centres being important, (AND THEY ARE!) but you are doing everything possible to make hawkers lives more difficult. Soon there will be no more hawkers left and all the delicious cheap food will go with them.
“Something is really wrong somewhere. I decided to write this long post so that you guys are aware of what is happening and know that the reports coming in fast and furious about these so called social enterprises are not fake news. We’d better go and eat there before they all leave.”