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Makansutra Founder KF Seetoh calls out NTUC Foodfare for issuing circular to close hawker centre for CNY

Mr Seetoh said it was insensitive of NTUC and they have no right to do so. "Why do you need to dictate and close the hawker centre for the holidays,” he said in a Facebook post

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Update as of 3.30pm on Jan 30: A spokesperson from NTUC Foodfare has responded to our queries and their full response can be found below.

Founder of Makansutra and entrepreneur-photojournalist KF Seetoh called out the Hawker Centre Unit of NTUC Foodfare Co-operative for issuing a mandate that the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre be closed on the first and second days of the Lunar New Year.

Sharing the circular distributed to the tenants of the hawker centre on social media, Seetoh asked in a Facebook post earlier today (Jan 29), “Insensitive. Why do you need to dictate and close the hawker centre for the holidays”.

Adding that hawker centres are essential services, Mr Seetoh said that there are non-chinese “who need and want to operate their stalls and serve all races on such days. And did you not consider the chinese hawkers who may want to sacrifice their 2 holidays to serve folks who may not celebrate CNY for one reason or another”.

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He called the ability to choose whether or not to open their stall their prerogative and said that “it’s the freedom hawkers are accorded all these decades until these Management Agents (MA) came along, to reinvent the rules of the wheel”.

In the circular, the MA wrote that they were “pleased to inform” that the hawkers would not be required to submit the Tenant Request Form (TRF) for any price adjustments to the food they sell. However, they add that an increase “must not be more than 50 cents”.

To this, Mr Seetoh wrote: “do not dictate how much they should raise or not, their prices. It’s their market knowledge that would formulate their price changes. If your parent NTUC could arrange for them to get cheaper supplies, then you have a narrative, otherwise, stay out of their operation. The public will decide if they want to patronise them”.

Concluding his post asking the management to do better, Mr Seetoh added, “if you do not know the organic culture the people and the hawkers have of public hawker centres, you should have a BIG rethink on operations and how you want to serve the public”.

Asking the management to take their cue from the hawkers themselves, he said: “never treat it like a private food court operation. You must learn the difference”.

In speaking to TISG, Mr Seetoh emphasised that the management of hawker centres should deal with the hawkers differently: “Hawkers often tell me their situation and most simply accept whatever rules are thrown at them, not bearing in mind the bigger picture of the organic relationship their food culture has with the public- which is what managing hawker centres must always bear in mind”. 

“Tenants and hawkers should have an independent association to represent their true needs and problems.. so the governors can react and govern based on this independent feedback”, he added. 

Responding to queries from TISG, a spokesperson from NTUC Foodfare said: “

We thank Mr KF Seetoh for his feedback and would like to clarify that none of the hawker centres under our management are required to close during the Chinese New Year (CNY) period. This year, a number of stalls continued to operate across our centres on the first two days of CNY. There is no change in CNY operations practice since we took over the management of the centres 2 years ago. 

However, the memo to hawkers could have been worded more clearly. It was meant to indicate that the management office would not be opened on CNY instead of the whole hawker centre. We apologise for the misunderstanding. We assure our hawkers that our teams at the centers are available to assist if they require clarification on matters relating to their operations.

Hawkers are empowered to decide their operating hours/days. To ensure a co-ordinated approach and minimize any inconvenience to customers, they just need to keep the operations team at the centre informed. Our stallholders are aware of this when our team conveyed the memo to them.

It is a market practice for hawkers to temporarily adjust their prices during the first 2 days of CNY due to higher operating costs (i.e. labour and raw materials). While Foodfare accepts this practice by our hawkers, we are also mindful to protect our customers from being overcharged.

Using the median price increase submitted by the hawkers for the previous year, the team has worked out a range of not more than $0.50 adjustment for beverages and not more than $1 for cooked food. This proposal is then discussed with all the respective Hawker Associations from each centre for mutual concurrence.

We have also built in consideration for our hawkers, should they need to increase beyond the recommended price increase, they can approach our Management with their proposal and rationale for consideration. We did not receive any request from our hawkers for further price increase.”

 /TISG

Insensitive. Why do you need to dictate and close the hawker cte for the holidays. Hawker centres are essential…

Posted by Kf Seetoh on Tuesday, January 28, 2020

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