Hawkers and operator meet over controversial 20-cent tray-return system

Jurong West Hawker Centre tenants are charged 20 cents for every tray issued to them. Twelve tenants have signed a petition to remove the fee. Some of them met the operator yesterday to discuss possible options.
Jurong West Hawker Centre tenants are charged 20 cents for every tray issued to them. Twelve tenants have signed a petition to remove the fee. Some of them met the operator yesterday to discuss possible options.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

Ideas to address unhappiness include raising food prices, making customers pay deposit

Modifications to a tray-return system that has stirred unhappiness at Jurong West Hawker Centre were floated during a meeting yesterday between some hawkers and the centre's operator.

These included a possible 20-cent increase in food prices at the centre, and having customers pay a 20-cent deposit when they buy food and get the money back when they return the tray.

A hawker, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times (ST) about the discussions at the meeting based on what she heard from those who attended it.

Unhappiness has been brewing among the Jurong West Hawker Centre tenants over the policy to charge a 20-cent fee for every tray issued to them.

ST understands that when the patrons return the tray, they would receive 20 cents as an incentive.

A petition to remove the fee, signed by 12 hawkers, was submitted in August.

The petition said that the tray-return system created numerous arguments between the hawkers and customers, and claimed that Jurong West Hawker Centre was the only hawker centre in Singapore where stallholders were being charged for the trays.

In a statement yesterday, Hawker Management, which operates the hawker centre, said it had a meeting with six tenants yesterday. They were among 12 hawkers who submitted the petition.

CLEANING FEES NOT HIGH

At $1,100, Jurong West Hawker Centre's cleaning fees are one of the lowest among social enterprise hawker centres.

HAWKER MANAGEMENT, operator of Jurong West Hawker Centre.

HOPEFUL FOR A SOLUTION

Me and my boss have not heard from the operator. I hope they do something because the cost from this tray-return system alone can be more than $800 a month.

HAWKER SURAYA BUNGA, who was not at yesterday's meeting with the operator, but whose stall was represented in the petition to remove the fee.

Hawker Management - a subsidiary of food centre operator Koufu - described the meeting as cordial and effective, and said both the operator and the tenants recognise that all parties are aligned in their objective to drive improvements to the hawker centre.

It added that it will continue to actively meet tenants over the next few days to gather tenants' feedback and views on all outstanding concerns, and that its staff are proactive in engaging tenants on the ground every day.

The main objective of the tray-return initiative is to lower cleaning fees for tenants, as the higher tray-return rates have enabled cost savings in the number of cleaners used, the statement said.

"At $1,100, Jurong West Hawker Centre's cleaning fees are one of the lowest among social enterprise hawker centres."

The statement also clarified that the tray-return initiative is not co-funded by Hawker Management and the tenants, in response to a media query suggesting the 20-cent fee was split between them.

When ST visited the hawker centre at 6pm yesterday, only 19 of the 34 stalls were open, and there were about 70 patrons.

Hawker Suraya Bunga, 46, who was not at the meeting, but whose stall was represented in the petition, said: "Me and my boss have not heard from the operator. I hope they do something because the cost from this tray-return system alone can be more than $800 a month."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2018, with the headline 'Hawkers and operator meet over 20-cent tray-return system'. Print Edition | Subscribe