Several individuals have expressed their frustrations with the way hawkers are treated as the conditions hawkers under the Social Enterprise Hawker Centre (SEHC) model are forced to grapple with were revealed in recent weeks.
As the authorities – such as the social enterprises managing these food centres, the panel that recommended the SEHC model to the Government, and the National Environment Agency (NEA) – responded to the revelations, some have been perplexed by the way the hawkers are characterised throughout the saga – as though they are “completely devoid of any intelligence”.
The daughter of a hawker who used to run a stall at the Alexandra Road Market was one such person who made this observation. In a letter to TODAY Online, Dr Lee Siew Peng recalled that her father “and his fellow stallholders and hawkers might have been illiterate, but they were able to organise themselves when needs arose in their community.”
Asserting that “market traders and hawkers are not unintelligent,” Dr Lee added:
“They knew exactly how long to trade to maximise profits. They ensured good value, service and quality because they knew customers voted every day — not once in five years like our General Election — with their feet and wallets. “Quality control” by some office-bound executive was unnecessary.
“They were fully capable of organising themselves to resolve pressing issues such as dish collection and dishwashing.”
Dr Lee further asked whether it is fair to shuffle responsibilities like attracting young hawkers to hawkers who urged their own children not to follow in their footsteps due to social mobility concerns. She asserted:
“If this Government wants more “hawkerpreneurs”, it should redouble its efforts. Do not shunt these responsibilities to hawkers under the guise of “social enterprise”.”
In a scathing commentary, Dr Lee highlighted that the authorities should adjust rental charges to get good hawkers and demanded: “Why should NEA profit further from the blood, sweat and tears of the hawkers that they have left in the hands of private businessmen?”
Makansutra founder and renowned food guru KF Seetoh echoed these sentiments that hawkers are not unintelligent in a Facebook post yesterday.
Sharing photos of several stalls at Blk 58 Upper Changi hawker centre – a hawker centre that is not under the SEHC model – Seetoh noted that these hawkers sell dishes for below $3 without the pressure of social enterprises:
“You dun need to regulate n contractualize hawkers to offer a $3 or below meal. They are smart ppl la. They know where n when to make money frm cheap or cheaper meals n when to slip on a lobster over nasi lemak..n make their ends meet each month. Their ears n feet (literally) are on the ground every day and they listen to the customer n learn from their needs and balance it. Can’t beat that.
“Let them be who they are and offer affordable rents n operation fees..please!”
You dun need to regulate n contractualize hawkers to offer a $3 or below meal. They are smart ppl la. They know where n…
The NEA – a Government statutory board under the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources – used to oversee the licensing, management, and regulation of hawkers at all Government-run hawker centres until recently, when the Government 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 in Singapore are run by social enterprises: NTUC Foodfare, Fei Siong Food Management, Timbre Group, OTMH and Hawker Management.
OTMH 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.
Besides Timbre Group, all the other four social enterprises were recently revealed to have forced the hawkers operating stalls at their SEHCs to grapple with additional hefty fees and what some believe to be overly strict rules, since they began running the food centres.
Fei Siong was accused of charging hawkers a whopping $600 monthly stall inspection fee, while Koufu’s Hawker Management was revealed to have charged hawkers a fee for each tray customers return.
OTMH was recently revealed to charge hawkers approximately $4000 to run a standard stall at their Tampines SEHC but do not allow hawkers to take any off day if they work 12 hours a day. Those who work 16 and 20 hours a day are entitled to 1 and 2 off days a month respectively.
Labour movement-linked NTUC Foodfare was also accused of hiking fees for hawkers at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre and Whampoa Makan Place since they took over the food centres.
Despite these constraints and hefty costs, hawkers at the SEHCs are expected to offer at least one dish at $3 or below.