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“NTUC contract robs hawkers of their dignity” – Netizen blasts PAP MP’s response to Old Airport Road saga in open letter

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Ruling party politician Lim Biow Chuan’s response to reports that hawkers at the famous Old Airport Road hawker centre are forced to work “super long hours,” under their new contract with the NTUC Foodfare management, has rubbed many netizens the wrong way.

Lim had been responding to a regular patron, Gary Ho’s allegations that the hawkers at Old Airport Road hawker centre were made to sign “ridiculous legal documents” when NTUC Foodfare took over the hawker centre from Government stat board, the National Environment Agency (NEA), two years ago.

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 further said that one hawker he spoke to shared that the hawkers at the famous food centre went to their Member of Parliament (MP) and brought up the changes they are forced to contend with but were only met with silence.

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Old Airport Road hawker centre falls under the Mountbatten SMC electoral division. The MP for Mountbatten is Lim Biow Chuan.

Rebutting Ho’s allegation that hawkers at the NTUC Foodfare-run centre have to work “super long hours,” Mountbatten MP Lim took to Facebook and said, “My parents were hawkers and I know how hard they work,” as he claimed that hawkers he spoke to denied that there is such requirements that they have to work very long hours. He added:

“I also spoke to 4 stall operators earlier in the evening and they all said that there was no condition imposed by Foodfare that they must stay open for super long hours. Nor was there any rule that they need to report their movement or face punishment!! What punishment, they asked??
“What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening. Just visit some of the other empty food centres at night and you will understand their concerns.”

Lim Biow Chuan has since been slammed by several netizens for missing the point of the issue entirely. In one particularly comprehensive response, a netizen called out the MP’s “misguided assumptions” in an open letter that is trending online.

In the open letter published this afternoon, Facebook user Lim Jialiang first noted that NTUC Foodfare require hawkers to open food service for a minimum of 8 hours and that this time period does not account for time food prep and other pre-opening work, which may take up to four-six hours for some stalls depending on what food they serve.

Calling the minimum opening time a “slap to the faces of long time hawkers,” Lim wrote:

“So realistically, even if a hawker only starts their operations at 8 and ends at 12, the work before, and after, add up to a lot more hours than what we see. Imposing a minimum opening time is a slap to the faces of long time hawkers, many of them in their twilight years, and can only work for so long. Let’s try not to kill our potential UNESCO Heritage before getting it.”

Lim also noted that NTUC Foodfare requires hawkers to submit an application one week in advance and wait for approval in case they need to take a break and shared a picture of the application form that is available online.

Lim informs the PAP MP in his letter that such requirements “take away autonomy and choice, two things that your parents had when they were hawkers”:

Lim then took aim at the PAP MP’s reasoning that “What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening.”

In his open letter, Lim wrote that there are many reasons why hawkers close during the evenings, when their centres typically empty out, such as people choosing to cook at home, the rise of food delivery apps and the plethora of F&B establishments in other places like malls. Lim further noted:

“We imposed a moratorium of building hawker centres for over 2 decades till 2012, and we are somehow surprised that some other form of dining and eating out has superseded hawker centres? Come on. Let’s be real here.”

Lim also asked why there are clauses in the legal documents over early closures or breaks if hawkers are not penalised for closing early or taking breaks, like the PAP MP suggested.

Asserting that such contracts like the one NTUC Foodfare made hawkers sign “rob our hawkers of dignity,” Lim pointed out that the authorities curiously turn defensive when they are confronted with such issues. Lim said:

“This is the crux of the problem now – these contracts rob our hawkers of dignity, and when people confront the problem, NEA and other establishment figures turn defensive and say “it’s not all that bad.” Throughout this whole debate, I have wished to see some of Singapore’s much boasted pragmatism. Instead, we are faced with stubbornness, wilful ignorance, and apologia at every turn.”

Read his open letter in full here:

“Dear MP Lim Biow Chuan

“I don’t even know how you managed to be put on the defensive when Gary Ho posted about Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, and the misguided assumptions that you made have lead me to shake my head like I was in a club. But allow me to rebut some of yours.

“First of all, Foodfare doesn’t force hawkers to stay open for extremely long. What they force hawkers to do is to keep a minimum of 8 hours of opening time. This is problematic because it doesn’t account for the amount of work they have to put in before service. Some stores manage better, like roast meat stores or chicken rice stores. Other stores, like places selling noodles and the like, are limited to the amount of stock they can make for the day. This can take anywhere from 4-6 hours to prepare. So realistically, even if a hawker only starts their operations at 8 and ends at 12, the work before, and after, add up to a lot more hours than what we see. Imposing a minimum opening time is a slap to the faces of long time hawkers, many of them in their twilight years, and can only work for so long. Let’s try not to kill our potential UNESCO Heritage before getting it.

“Other issues include having to submit to Foodfare a week in advance on when they want to take a break, submit to approval. These take away autonomy and choice, two things that your parents had when they were hawkers. Don’t take my word for it – the application form is online and for easy viewing.

“Secondly, you say that “What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening.” There are reasons why Hawker Centres these days tend to empty out during dinner. Firstly, it points to the fact that maybe more people are choosing to cook their own food at home for dinner, which is a good development.

“Another more likely answer is that the development of integrated malls and an explosion in F&B options, the prevalence of delivery apps, as well as changing consumer tastes all lead to hawker centres being de-emphasised as a dinner location. As a result, most hawkers have shifted focus to working the lunch crowd. Hawker centres are by far the best choice because of the relatively quick turnover for tables and the speed at which hawkers serve their food. We imposed a moratorium of building hawker centres for over 2 decades till 2012, and we are somehow surprised that some other form of dining and eating out has superseded hawker centres? Come on. Let’s be real here.

“Thirdly, you say that there’s no punishment if any hawker closes early, or breaks any of the clauses. If there are no punitive measures involved, then as any decent lawyer will tell you, what are these clauses in the form for? Leave them out lah.

“This is the crux of the problem now – these contracts rob our hawkers of dignity, and when people confront the problem, NEA and other establishment figures turn defensive and say “it’s not all that bad.” Throughout this whole debate, I have wished to see some of Singapore’s much boasted pragmatism. Instead, we are faced with stubbornness, wilful ignorance, and apologia at every turn.

“Edit: Now we see NTUC Foodfare saying that this contract doesn’t apply to Old Airport Road. See Here: https://mothership.sg/…/old-airport-road-hawkers-complaints/)

“If it doesn’t, then why does the bulletin for tender also refer to the hawker centre there? (http://www.foodfare.com.sg/news_details.cfm…) Does that mean that other Foodfare managed NEA hawker centres also have terms like this? Patiently waiting for your replies, Foodfare.”

https://www.facebook.com/lim.jialiang/posts/10157063077416844?__tn__=K-R

https://theindependent.sg.sg/ntuc-allegedly-made-old-airport-road-hawkers-sign-ridiculous-legal-documents-before-hiking-costs/

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