Your Letters

Bring hawker trade into modern age

I share the concerns of editor at large Han Fook Kwang ("Don't let hawker fare disappear"; Nov 15).

If society remains apathetic, Singapore's unique hawker fare might soon disappear entirely.

The job of a hawker is not a glamorous one, involving long hours, oppressive heat, back-breaking toil and mediocre pay.

Perhaps the solution lies in bringing the hawker trade into the modern age.

The first area to improve would be the working conditions.

The majority of Singaporeans now work in reasonably comfortable environments. It is only appropriate that hawker centre infrastructure be brought in line with recent developments, to the benefit of both stallholders and their customers.

Projects such as the new Bedok Food Centre and the renovated Tiong Bahru Market point to the way forward, with modern designs that emphasise open space to improve ventilation and crowd flow.

Additional features, such as air-conditioning or environmentally friendly designs, would go a long way towards improving the desirability of hawker centres as workplaces and dining options.

With regard to the financial pressures facing hawkers, it is appropriate for the Government to intervene by cutting rentals and offering subsidies to stallholders.

This would be comparable to state support for essential public services or grants to small and medium-sized enterprises.

It can thereby ensure not just fair salaries for hard-working hawkers or affordable pricing that will attract and satisfy customers, but also the preservation of Singapore's irreplaceable food culture.

The food industry can also do its part by offering discounted prices for ingredients and other key supplies.

Vocational training centres could enter into partnership with veteran hawkers, ensuring that authentic recipes are passed on to the next generation.

Above all, there is a need, at a societal level, to recognise that the job of a hawker is respectable. A shift in perception is key to attracting more young and entrepreneurial newcomers into the industry.

With an improved workplace, government assistance and social recognition, the vocation of a professional cook will keep the flame of the unique Singaporean tradition burning.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 06, 2015, with the headline 'Bring hawker trade into modern age'. Print Edition | Subscribe