Patrons at the Ayer Rajah Food Centre in the West Coast may have to get used to messy and dirty tables for the next month.
Hawkers there told The Straits Times yesterday that they received a notice at the start of the week that they could no longer rely on cleaners to collect their crockery from the tables.
A 34-year-old Hainanese chicken rice seller who wanted to be known only as Tini said that the centre had been visited by Ministry of Manpower officers about two weeks ago following a tip-off, and several of the cleaning contractor's employees were found to be without work permits.
"After that I think the centre's management tried to get replacement cleaners, but all of them just lasted a day or two," she said.
"The only bright side is that we no longer have to pay the cleaning fees." She said these ranged from $5 to $13 a day.
While other stallholders said they believed the centre's management was trying to find new cleaners, long-time drinks seller Rahmat Toh, 67, was pessimistic about the chances.
"The problem is that we'll be closing down for six weeks at the end of May for minor repairs and a big cleaning," he said.
"Which contractor will want to come in now and just work for a few weeks?"
Mr Toh said it was more likely that new cleaners would start work only when the centre re-opens in mid-July.
The hawkers said they were doing their best in the meantime to keep the centre and tables clean and their patrons happy.
"It's difficult because we have to be at our stalls but we also don't want customers to be angry that they have to clean up the tables themselves," said a 58-year-old stallholder who wanted to be known only as Madam Ang.
Meanwhile, another cleaning crisis was narrowly averted at the Havelock Road Food Centre near Tiong Bahru MRT station.
Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Lily Neo said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that she had helped the centre's hawkers find a cleaning contractor.
She had said in an earlier post last week that although the centre's cleaning contractor was ending its services soon, "the stallholders were at loggerheads with each other and unable to agree over the engagement of a new cleaning contractor".
In Tuesday's post, she said: "Now for sure there is continuity in cleaning maintenance of the food centre, and the stallholders can continue to run their businesses as before."