Dr Amy Khor writing in her Facebook has said that she has heard the concerns raised by hawkers, especially on the issues of cost and contractual terms used by operators. Dr Khor spoke up after several members of the public questioned the Senior Minister of State (SMOS) for Environment and Water Resourceson why hawkers have to pay the customer 20 cents for returning the tray. They were referring to news that some hawkers at Jurong West Hawker Centre have petitioned the National Environment Agency (NEA) for the operator to remove the fee of 20 cents for each returned tray.
The petition, signed by 12 hawkers, was submitted in August and also sent to Koufu, which runs the hawker centre through its social enterprise subsidiary Hawker Management. The hawkers are claiming that Jurong West Hawker Centre, which opened a year ago, is the only one in Singapore where stallholders are the ones paying for patrons to return their trays. Customers at the hawker centre do not pay anything to take a tray when they buy food, but receive 20 cents when they return their tray.
One Facebook user commenting on Dr Khor’s Facebook post that “Hawkers are a part of Singapore’s culture”, said: “I am inviting you to come to 50 Jurong West Hawker Center to see the operation of the Center and have a meet session with the hawkers.”
Another Facebook user asked the SMOS: “I wonder if it is it true that when customers return their tray, the hawkers need to pay back 20 cents.” He added later: “(It is) strange that we still want to bid for recognition by UNESCO for our hawker culture, when we are killing hawker culture with high rental and operating cost.”
The SMOS who had maintained radio silence on the topic until now said:
“NEA is working closely with operators and hawkers to address these issues. I have asked NEA to quickly iron out the problems and to do a stock-take of the Social Enterprise model. NEA will not hesitate to take operators to task if they are found to be errant.
“NEA is already reviewing the contractual agreements with the view to prescribe some of the terms used by operators in these contracts. We will continue to fine-tune the management model, to safeguard the interests of Singaporeans – patrons and hawkers – and achieve the objective of ensuring that Singaporeans have access to affordable food and hawkers can make a decent living.”
In a U-turn, The operator of Jurong West Hawker Centre announced on Thursday (Oct 18) that customers at Jurong West Hawker Centre will soon have to pay a refundable deposit of 20 cents for every tray they use. The date for when this change will kick in will be announced at a later stage, once all details have been finalised, the operator added in a media statement.