Hawkers' views must be central to review

Wednesday's report noted that the new 14-member committee set up to keep Singapore's hawker culture strong is made up of people from the private and public sectors, including food enthusiasts and representatives from the educational institutions ("Serving up help for hawkers and better hawker centres").

Actual hawkers or even those who work in hawker centres seem to be glaringly missing.

Given the fact that the median age of cooked-food hawkers is 59, it would also make sense to include people from different age groups in the committee.

If hawkers are excluded from the committee, then some form of needs assessment should be carried out to pinpoint challenges they face on the ground.

The current recommendations, such as structured training programmes for new entrants, centralised dish-washing systems, and the buying and preparation of ingredients in bulk, may appear constructive on paper, but are unlikely to go according to plan.

The cooking of ingredients in bulk, for instance, would be resisted by those who use family recipes or special cooking techniques.

Soliciting and aggregating the perspectives of hawkers across locality and demographics should, therefore, be central to the review.

Above all, a discourse over costs is necessary. We need to find out how cooked-food hawkers manage overheads, manpower and ingredient expenses; how costs and remuneration may deter young Singaporeans from entering the industry; and how hawkers may have struggled in recent years.

A conversation must also be had about the unfair disparity between hawker centres and other dining establishments, especially when much fuss is kicked up when the former raises prices, but not when the latter does the same.

Kwan Jin Yao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Hawkers' views must be central to review'. Print Edition | Subscribe