Forum: NEA reviewing approach to table cleanliness in hawker centres; schemes in place to sustain hawker trade

We refer to the recent letters related to the inscription of Singapore's hawker culture on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity (Time to work on cleanliness, hygiene standards; Three predicaments faced by the hawker trade, both Dec 18; Reduce stall rental to help hawkers survive, Dec 21; No letting up on drive to cultivate cleanliness culture, Dec 31).

We agree that cleanliness in our hawker centres can be improved.

Food remnants, soiled crockery, tissue paper and wipes left on tables lead to bird nuisance and pose a public health risk to patrons, cleaners and hawkers. They are also a blight on our hawker centres. Everyone should return their used crockery and trays as a courtesy to the next diner. A self-service concept will also lessen the workload of our cleaners.

Since 2013, we have introduced several tray return initiatives, including behavioural nudges (with visual and audio cues), publicity campaigns and infrastructural improvements, such as the automatic tray return system with tray deposit.

From June last year, SG Clean ambassadors have also been advising patrons to bin their litter left on tables, and to return trays and used crockery.

While there has been some improvement, progress is slow.

Tray return rates at hawker centres in Adam Road and Tiong Bahru are encouraging, at between 60 per cent and 70 per cent, but at most hawker centres, the average is only around 30 per cent.

Covid-19 has underscored the importance of cleanliness, and more needs to be done. With phase three of the nation's reopening, the National Environment Agency (NEA) is reviewing the approach to maintaining table cleanliness at hawker centres.

On the issue of stall rental, about 36 per cent of cooked-food hawkers are still on the subsidised rent scheme. Most hawkers rent stalls through NEA's tender exercises. There is no minimum bid and almost 40 per cent of stalls are awarded to bids below 85 per cent of the assessed market rent, with some as low as $1.

Additionally, the Government fully funds hawker centre development and upgrading, and is subsidising the cost of centralised dishwashing services.

These efforts have helped to keep rentals low, with the median cooked-food stall rental across all hawker centres at $1,250 monthly.

On sustaining the hawker trade, we have various incubation programmes where new hawker entrants are in their 30s and 40s, lower than the national median age of hawkers at 59. In addition, we will be piloting a new hawkers succession scheme to further facilitate retiring veteran hawkers passing down stalls and recipes to the next generation of hawkers.

We will continue to work with all stakeholders to keep our hawker centres clean, and safeguard our hawker culture for future generations.

Andrew Low

Group Director, Hawker Centres Group

National Environment Agency