Hawkers are business owners; they know what to do

Instead of trying to pile on more terms and conditions to tweak the social enterprise model, we should instead take a step back and recognise the simple fact that hawkers are running a business and trying to make a living (NEA reviewing contracts between operators, stallholders; Oct 27).

Like any business, hawkers will ensure that they sell products at the right price to strike a balance between profit and remaining competitive, and will open the optimum number of hours to meet demand.

I say this based on my experience as a hawker.

There is no need to "force" them to sell dishes at a certain price or open a certain number of hours.

What the Government should do, is first, ensure that rents and other costs are capped, and are clear from the start.

In this regard, removing the price bidding system would be helpful.

Put stalls up for tender with clear pricing of stalls based on average rental and perhaps location of stalls, and award bids based on food mix and/or innovative proposals.

It would also help new hawkers to have the first month's rent discounted to get them started. NEA should also pro-rate charges when the hawker centre is closed for cleaning.

To attract younger people to the trade, facilities can be improved so that daily life in the hawker centre is more comfortable.

One consideration is to make the stalls bigger. Some stalls are ridiculously tiny, and spending 10 hours a day in a hot and humid space with barely any room to move is not an attractive proposition for most.

If the Government sees hawker centres as a critical social space and a platform for cheap food, then it should not be outsourcing the management of it to private companies.

I would also suggest not focusing too much on extras such as Wi-Fi or providing entertainment on site.

Hawkers do not want people to linger, they want good churn during meal hours. What is more important is providing enough seats and parking.

Singaporeans can help encourage the trade by acknowledging that it is not possible for hawkers to keep prices at $3 forever, as costs for everything rise.

Yeo Yujin

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 01, 2018, with the headline 'Hawkers are business owners; they know what to do'. Print Edition | Subscribe