Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources

Serving up help for hawkers and better hawker centres

A committee is looking into ways to attract new hawkers, as the median age of cooked food hawkers is 59. It also wants to help hawkers be more productive, such as by using centralised dish-washing systems or buying and preparing ingredients in bulk.
A committee is looking into ways to attract new hawkers, as the median age of cooked food hawkers is 59. It also wants to help hawkers be more productive, such as by using centralised dish-washing systems or buying and preparing ingredients in bulk. Seen here is the Old Airport Road Food Centre.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

To keep Singapore's hawker culture strong, a committee has been set up to help hawkers and hawker centres evolve.

It will do so by looking into ways to keep hawker businesses viable.

It will also suggest improvements to hawker centres, including increasing productivity, enhancing these centres as spaces for community bonding, and promoting graciousness among people who eat there.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, who leads the Hawker Centre 3.0 committee, said: "It is timely for a comprehensive review of our hawker centres as Singapore moves beyond SG50. Hawker food is close to the heart of many Singaporeans."

MPs Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) and Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had spoken about the preservation of Singapore's hawker heritage during the debate on the spending plans of the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources.

Dr Khor said more needed to be done to attract new hawkers, as the median age of cooked food hawkers is 59.

She said the committee will explore ideas, such as structured training programmes for new entrants to the trade.

It is also looking at measures to help hawkers become more productive, such as implementing centralised dish-washing systems in hawker centres or buying and preparation of cooking ingredients in bulk. This can also help cushion increases in costs.

The 14-member committee, which is made up of people from the private and public sectors including food enthusiasts and representatives from the educational institutions, has met a number of times since the start of the year.

It aims to complete its review by early next year, said the National Environment Agency (NEA).

In the coming months, the NEA will review some of their suggestions to see if pilot trials can be conducted.

There are over 14,000 licensed hawkers operating in 109 hawker centres here that are managed by the NEA, of which about 6,000 are selling cooked food.

Committee member Kee Ai Nah, group director of industry and enterprise at Spring Singapore, said hawker businesses must be viable for the hawker heritage to be preserved, and suggested sharing facilities to raise productivity and profitability.Another committee member, Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, felt it is important to create a pleasant dining experience.

Gestures such as clearing the bowls and plates after a meal will ensure hawker centres are "inviting and pleasing for the next patron".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 13, 2016, with the headline 'Serving up help for hawkers and better hawker centres'. Print Edition | Subscribe