SINGAPORE: Prominent food critic KF Seetoh has once again called attention to the struggles hawkers in Singapore face in a recent Facebook post.
Calling the presence of hawkers in Singapore the “8th wonder of the world,” he asserted that financial burdens, stringent regulations, and labour constraints are contributing to an environment where it is increasingly unsustainable to be a hawker.
As he pointed out multiple issues hawkers face, Mr Seetoh’s frustrations appeared to hit a fever pitch over the weekend.
In a lengthy post published on Saturday (16 Dec), Mr Seetoh highlighted the competitive nature of acquiring hawker stalls, stressing that bidding for a stall could reach over $7,000.
He emphasized the additional financial burdens faced by hawkers, such as separate charges for cleaning, washing, and returning plates and bowls.
He added that government-approved operators often take a percentage of the hawkers’ profits, further impacting their earnings.
Mr Seetoh also said that the hawker lifestyle is exceptionally demanding, noting that hawkers must open every day of the week, with limited flexibility on leave. Rising ingredient costs and the lack of control over utility charges add to the financial strain faced by hawkers who often work 12-14 hours a day.
If hawkers want to hire foreign workers to take the strain off, they face an “oxymoron,” according to Mr Seetoh, as hawkers face a quota of 3-6 Singaporeans for every foreign hire, coupled with a substantial levy of up to $1,000 in addition to the salary.
He also decried the way customers demand last-decade prices for hawker food despite the escalating costs faced by the vendors.
Lamenting the lack of protection and support for hawkers, noting that closures and setbacks are frequent, with little regard for their interests, Mr Seetoh wrote:
“In Singapore, You bid for the hawker stall (of course the highest gets it, duh! it was over $7k at last count). Cleaning, washing and returning of plates and bowls are charged separately. Some govt approved operators will take a percentage profit from the hawkers till.
“You have to open every day of the week, apply for leave like you are a CPF paid staff. Ingredients are rising everyday and utilities are up to the management to charge..you have no say. They know you work 12-14 hours a day, but no one really cares. And no one wants to work for you and it isn’t about the money.
“And if you wanna hire foreigners who likes the job, you need a quota of 3-6 Singaporeans to hire just one, and you have to pay a levy of up to $1000 over and above the salary. What an oxymoron.
“The public meanwhile, expects your food to cost last decade prices and the clickbait media cant wait to diss you if you charge higher to reflect these cost pressures today. And this again, is the world’s most expensive city.
“Proportionately, chicken rice cost more in our neighbouring cities…it’s $8.50 in Manila.
take a look, hawkers here are closing and falling like flies. You read about them almost daily. No one really protects you and your interest.
“SO, WHY DA HELL DO YOU STILL WANNA BE A HAWKER IN SINGAPORE? That’s the 8th wonder of the world. And if you’re already in this muck, guess what you need to do?”
Mr Seetoh’s final assertion suggests he’s at the end of his tether regarding the harsh realities hawkers face, with little respite.
Hawkers have a unique role in Singapore as cultural custodians and purveyors of Singapore’s diverse culinary heritage. Without timely intervention, the rich tapestry of hawker culture – a cornerstone of the Singapore identity – risks unravelling.
Mr Seetoh’s post is a sobering reminder of how systemic challenges threaten their livelihoods and the essence of the nation’s food culture.
The founder of the long-running Makansutra food network, which has produced heritage street food guides, international culinary TV shows and food markets for over two decades, Mr Seetoh, is widely considered Singapore’s Food Ambassador and – more recently – a fierce advocate for Singapore hawkers.
He has a reputation for speaking his mind and has repeatedly urged the authorities to do more to preserve Singapore’s hawker culture. He has also spoken out against schemes like the government’s social enterprise hawker centre network and corporations he feels are trying to profit from Singapore’s hawkers.