Featured News Opinion OPINION | Instead of complaining about hawkers increasing food prices, we should...

OPINION | Instead of complaining about hawkers increasing food prices, we should be taking action by campaigning for change

“... shouldn't we have more empathy for our hawkers? Why hate on them when we can concentrate our efforts on campaigning for change?” — Ghui, OPINION

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Singaporeans can seem rather conflicted when it comes to the issue of rising costs of living. While it is definitely clear that the costs of everything including food have spiked, and we are all aware of it, we still seemed surprised about the fact that it could affect someone else, thereby necessitating them to also increase their prices.

instead of blaming the hawkers, why aren’t we channelling our energy into petitioning the Government and our various members of parliament into bringing down the costs for hawkers so that our own costs go down too?

In a post to the popular Facebook page Voice Your Grievances, a netizen who goes by the name of Jafri Basron wrote about the “shameful price increase” of a well-known fried Kuay Teow hawker stall. In his post on Tuesday (Jun 14), he complained that the price was increased from S$3.50 to S$4.50 for a small plate and S$5.50 for a large plate of fried kuay teow.

While no one likes price increments, is it really the hawker’s fault for needing to raise prices? After all, he too has to make a living like the rest of us. If prices have increased for us, it is natural to assume that the hawker is also affected by these increments? Why are we blaming the hawker, then?

Netizens have also labelled paying S$11 for cai png or economy rice with fish at a hawker centre as a “robbery” and a “ripoff”.

It’s not been a secret that on top of the prices of raw materials rising, the rents for hawker stalls have long been on the up.

Let’s take the sale of a recent coffee shop in Tampines as an example. The coffee shop at Block 201 Tampines Street 21 was sold for a record S$41,682,168 recently. Stallholders in the venue have confirmed that their rent has increased since the coffeeshop changed owners two months ago, and some have even had to quit the venue because they could no longer make their business viable.

Lest we forget, the hawkers were heavily hit when the various Covid-19 restrictions severely limited their businesses.

In a climate like this, the hawkers are consumers who are affected by the soaring costs of living too. So, instead of blaming the hawkers, why aren’t we channelling our energy into petitioning the Government and our various members of parliament into bringing down the costs for hawkers so that our own costs go down too?

Singapore has long-held eating at hawker centres as part of its culture. So much so that the country’s hawker culture has been added to the Unesco list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Many Singaporeans also regard the entry of hawkers into the Michelin guide as a source of national pride.

According to Mr Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the MICHELIN Guides, the inclusion of hawker stalls in the selection does not come as a surprise. He praised Singapore’s hawkers, saying that “their tenacity to brave through these uncertain times has been a source of strength to everyone and this uniquely Singapore’s hawker culture a source of pride to the nation. Now, they are inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Culture List.”

With this in mind, shouldn’t we have more empathy for our hawkers? Why hate on them when we can concentrate our efforts on campaigning for change?

Escalating costs for hawkers have been a phenomenon from way back – even before the Covid-19 pandemic or the invasion of Ukraine. Let us be reminded that there have been concerns about escalating rents from way back in 2014!

Yet, nothing much was done then, and we now have the compounded effects of Covid-19 and inflation added to the mix. Is it really that much of a surprise that hawkers have to increase their prices? And, even if we, as the consumer, are understandably frustrated, should we be taking out our frustrations on the hawkers who are themselves trying to make ends meet? Or, can we be more constructive with our anger and lobby the Government to bring the rents under control?

The issues that hawkers face and the resentment that this has caused may perhaps be symptomatic of how we all live our lives and how we are governed. Beyond blaming the Government though, it is also imperative to remember that we have all also bought into this way of life, whether consciously or subconsciously. As writer Tang Li aptly opined:

“It’s a strange world where people take pride in spending their time chasing all sorts of expensive stuff. Time, that most precious of commodities, is meant to be devoted to only those who can give you something in return… When you’re living like this and everyone else is living like this, it seems normal. However, when you leave that environment, or you interact with people from that environment, you suddenly realise that the life you’re leading isn’t exactly normal, and it’s not exactly pleasant.” And to hit the nail on the head, he said: “However, while having money is important, it’s not the only thing in life. In Singapore, the people who understand this basic concept are ironically the people who earn the least.”

And, if we really are so worried and angry about the rising costs of living and hawkers, putting up their prices, why aren’t we voting for politicians in the Workers’ Party – the party that is advocating a minimum wage and that is against the planned GST hikes?

It is as if we take out all our grievances on all the wrong people and choose to complain instead of taking action?

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