Automation and pooling resources the way to go

Hawkers at Bukit Merah Central Food Centre do not have to wash their own dishes or utensils. Instead, they pay a fee for their dirty crockery and cutlery to be washed in factories.
Hawkers at Bukit Merah Central Food Centre do not have to wash their own dishes or utensils. Instead, they pay a fee for their dirty crockery and cutlery to be washed in factories.PHOTO: ST FILE

At Bukit Merah Central Food Centre, hawkers do not have to wash their own dishes or utensils.

Instead, they pay a fee for their dirty crockery and cutlery to be taken away and washed at a factory, and returned the next morning.

For Madam Irene Koh, 58, that saves her about $400 - the additional amount of money she would have had to fork out each month to hire someone to help her clean up.

"It saves time, labour and water... It has made our lives easier," said Madam Koh, who runs Mei Ji Fish Ball Noodle with her husband.

A central dishwashing service was among the recommendations proposed by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee yesterday, to improve productivity at hawker centres, a move that can help keep costs lower for hawkers and, in turn, patrons. Pooling resources and buying in bulk from suppliers, and using equipment to automate repetitive tasks such as the chopping of vegetables, were also highlighted.

Hawkers interviewed said they were open to buying common ingredients such as noodles, rice, salt and sugar in bulk as that would drive down their expenses, though they would still have to buy their own key ingredients such as prawns, for instance.

As for new machinery, some pointed out that this would be difficult because their stalls were too small. However, automation made sense for Mr Raymond Tan, 59, who runs a dumpling stall in Block 50A, Marine Terrace, as he got weaker with age. Last year, he spent $15,000 on a customised wok that stirs its content automatically.

Now, he is able to fry 20kg of pork at a go, double the previous amount. "I think this machine will help me stay in business longer," he said.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor, the committee chairman, noted that hawkers are wary of any additional costs, and said the team has suggested that the Government consider an incentive scheme to get them on board such productivity-enhancing initiatives.

"Hawker centres are close to the hearts of Singaporeans, and our recommendations are aimed at supporting Singaporeans who aspire to join the hawker trade, while at the same time ensuring that the public will continue to have access to affordable and tasty food in a clean and pleasant environment," she said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline 'Automation and pooling resources the way to go'. Print Edition | Subscribe