Hawkers to get more help to tap online delivery platforms: Josephine Teo

Minister Teo notes that the National Environment Agency has provided incentives for hawkers to get on food delivery platforms. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Hawkers will be given additional help by the Government to get onto online delivery platforms as more people stay home and order food amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a Facebook post on Saturday (June 5), Minister for Communications and Information (MCI) Josephine Teo said this was a new eating lifestyle which presented challenges for hawkers.

Mrs Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Smart Nation Initiative, noted that the National Environment Agency (NEA) had provided incentives for hawkers to join food delivery platforms.

To speed up matters, she has asked Minister of State for Communications and Information and National Development Tan Kiat How to help the hawkers get onto the platforms.

She also welcomed the support of Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Amy Khor, who will work with Mr Tan to recruit partners who can bring about this digital change to improve the livelihoods of hawkers.

Mrs Teo added: "Just as we have overcome the challenges in helping our hawkers with e-payment, I believe we can overcome these new sets of challenges too."

She said about 60 per cent of the 18,000 stallholders in Singapore now offer QR e-payment under the Infocomm Media Development Authority's Hawkers Go Digital effort.

Mrs Teo said when Covid-19 first struck last year, some hawkers were initially hesitant about going digital.

But the country supported them and the industry provided the infrastructure to offer hawker food on online platforms.

She added that the community championed and bought hawker food, and the Government intensified outreach efforts.

She said: "Our hawkers themselves also showed great can-do spirit, changed their mindset and took the digital leap."

In her post, Mrs Teo referred to an opinion piece by The Straits Times' associate editor Chua Mui Hoong, published on Friday, which urged regulatory agencies and big food delivery players to provide long-term support for hawkers to go digital.

Ms Chua noted the swell in ground-up and volunteer efforts to help hawkers amid Covid-19 restrictions but questioned where the state, government agencies and industry players were in these efforts.

"Here, discounts and commission rebates by delivery platforms like Grab are helpful - but Grab covers only a small fraction of hawker stalls, which is disappointing but understandable, given the very low profit margins of hawker food which don't allow the 30 per cent commission that food delivery platforms typically charge," she wrote.

She suggested setting up an alliance for action to help hawkers, which included the above partners.

Ms Chua added: "These alliances are a new breed of private-public partnership that brings industry leaders together with government officials to brainstorm ideas and operationalise them quickly - a kind of skunkworks team that works across ministries, and with the private sector, to solve specific problems."

Mrs Teo said these views were mirrored by her MCI colleagues and urged Singaporeans to keep supporting their favourite hawkers.

She added: "One dabao and a kind word will mean so much to them and their business."

In a Facebook post on Saturday, Mr Tan said he and Dr Khor plan to rope in public and private partners to explore ideas to help hawkers better adopt online delivery and e-ordering platforms.

He added that there were about 1,000 digital ambassadors on the ground and urged hawkers to look out for them if they needed help.

Dr Khor said in a Facebook post on Saturday that more than 1,300 hawkers have taken up NEA's $500 grant to adopt food delivery services.

She added that the agency has waived stall rentals by half in May and June for around 6,000 cooked food stallholders in hawker centres managed by NEA or NEA-appointed operators. It also subsidised all fees for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing services for cooked food stallholders during this period.

"We are heartened by the many members of the public who have stepped forward to help hawkers with publicising their stalls, and getting Singaporeans to patronise them," she said.

Chairman of Boon Lay Hawkers Association, Mr Anthony Low, welcomes the move to help hawkers get onto delivery platforms.

He said older stallholders would need incentives to change their longstanding practices but he urged them to be more open to technology.

Mr Low, who runs Xin Sheng Gor Hiong Prawn Cracker at Boon Lay Place Market and Food Village, hopes that the Government will subsidise commission fees tied to the platforms so that hawkers do not take on added costs.

"We do not jack up our price because we are serving the public and keep the food affordable. So if there is any cost we have to incur, it will be tough for us."

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