Hawkers enjoy low rents for their stalls, thanks to government policies, Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament yesterday.
Statistics he cited show more than eight in 10 hawkers pay less than $1,500 in rent for their stalls each month. In fact, four in 10 pay less than $400, he added.
Dr Balakrishnan was replying to Nominated MP Kuik Shiao-Yin, who had asked how the National Environment Agency (NEA) plans to help hawkers deal with the rising cost of food ingredients and manpower.
He said NTUC Foodfare and Fei Siong Food Management, which NEA appointed to manage several hawker centres, will help suppress ingredient prices by buying in bulk.
On the rising costs of manpower, Dr Balakrishnan said these wage increases for cleaners and hawker assistants are "well-justified and well-deserved".
"I think I stand with the support of all of you that we were right in imposing progressive wages to increase the wages and employment conditions of cleaners," he said.
"I would also expect Members of the House to support wage increases for hawker assistants."
Earlier this year, the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources said its surveys show that in general, ingredients form about 60 per cent of a hawker's costs. Manpower makes up 17 per cent, rent 12 per cent, utilities 9 per cent and table cleaning and other costs, 3 per cent.
Social enterprise NTUC Foodfare, which manages a hawker centre in Bedok and will operate another in Bukit Panjang that is due to open by year's end, said it could help its hawkers save 15 to 20 per cent on their basic ingredients - such as oil, cooking flour and eggs - through bulk-buying.
Fei Siong Food Management, which operates a hawker centre in Hougang through a social enterprise subsidiary, estimates it could help its hawkers save 5 to 10 per cent on their basic ingredients.
Said Dr Balakrishnan: "I have told (the social enterprises) very clearly that my main objective is to help keep food prices affordable and bring down the cost of raw ingredients for hawkers. Everything else is an extra."
NTUC Foodfare and Fei Siong have set price caps on some basic dishes like chicken rice to keep hawker fare affordable. While some hawkers have criticised the move, saying stall-holders would struggle to make a living, Dr Balakrishnan said it was not a new idea.
"All of us will remember school canteens and, even today, workplace canteens, where in exchange for low or subsidised rentals, the hawkers serve their food at low prices or even at prices which are approved by the landlord.
"It's a tightrope, a balancing act: Hawkers, employers and the people of Singapore," he said.
"Let's take a data-driven approach, watch the food prices, quality and nutrition, and let's calibrate the policy along the way."