Hawkers at social enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) are being given a break in terms of rental in the latest in a series of improvements to the SEHC operating model.
It comes as such hawker centres are set to take root in other areas of Singapore, with the first of 13 new ones to open next year at the Bukit Canberra sport and community hub in Sembawang.
The new SEHCs, to be completed by 2027, will join the seven existing ones in operation - these are managed by five social enterprise entities: Hawker Management by Koufu, Fei Siong Social Enterprise, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre+Hawkers and OTMH by Kopitiam.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) oversees most of Singapore's other hawker centres.
Hawkers at the 13 new SEHCs will get a head start with the NEA's new Staggered Rent Scheme, which will see stallholders pay lower rents for the first two years of operation. In the first year, they will enjoy a 20 per cent discount, and in the second year, 10 per cent.
With the median rent per month being $2,000 at SEHCs, hawkers will save around $400 on rent a month for the first year, and $200 a month in the second year.
Hawkers at three of the existing SEHCs will also benefit from the scheme from Sunday.
Eligible stallholders at the Yishun Park, Jurong West and Pasir Ris Central centres will enjoy a 10 per cent rental remission for six months from Sept 1.
Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said: "From our experience over the last four years, new hawker centres and stallholders need time to establish themselves to build up their business and a regular base of clientele. We are now going to provide further support measures to the stallholders in our upcoming centres."
These temporary reductions in rental prices are in addition to subsidies for centralised dish-washing services announced in January.
The NEA said it would co-fund the cost of dish washing at 50 per cent for the first year of adoption, and 30 per cent for the second.
Other changes to SEHC operations also took place in November last year, when the NEA reviewed key contractual terms between the five operators of SEHCs and their hawkers.
The changes followed criticism of the SEHCs by hawkers late last year, with some complaining about onerous contractual terms, high rents, long hours, low footfall and being locked into contracts. It looks unlikely, however, that NEA will take back oversight of day-to-day operations at the hawker centres.
"We will be continuing with the SEHC model, and the upcoming centres that will be built will be operated by successful socially conscious operators," said Dr Khor, adding that the new hawker centres have done reasonably well, and achieved the social objectives set.
"Whether it is new hawker centres or existing hawker centres, and whatever the management model, hawker centres built by the Government will continue to be owned and regulated by the Government."
Dr Khor added that the NEA will be reviewing and enhancing the tender evaluation criteria for proposals submitted by SEHC operators for future hawker centres that they would like to manage.
She said: "This will help us to ensure that we safeguard the well-being and interests of hawkers, while achieving our social objectives of ensuring that residents get access to affordable food in a hygienic environment, so that hawkers can make a decent living, and also so hawker centres can remain vibrant social spaces."