New rules for social enterprise hawker centres from Jan 1, including standard termination notice: NEA

The changes involve key areas such as stall operation days and hours, termination notice periods and security deposits. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Stallholders at social enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) may operate five days a week and terminate their tenancies with no more than two months' notice to operators from Jan 1, 2019, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced on Friday (Nov 9).

These and other changes will provide a standard "playbook" that the SEHCs need to abide by and give NEA more oversight regarding the ways these hawker centres are run, said the agency.

The adjustments involve key areas such as stall operation days and hours, termination notice periods and security deposits.

Requirements vary across the different SEHCs, but some hawkers currently must operate at least six days a week, catering for three meals each day.

When the changes kick in, this will be standardised to a 5-day week. While stallholders may choose to operate for more than five days each week, and more than eight hours a day, NEA said operators need to engage the hawkers to find how they plan to do so, and if they have sufficient manpower.

As for security deposits held by the operator, NEA said it will not be more than two months' rent.

In the case of damages and other charges, operators may impose damages on hawkers. But these will be kept reasonable, at no more than $50 for minor ones and $100 for major breaches.

"We want to achieve two key social objectives - to provide the community with a good variety of affordable food options, which will help to moderate food prices too, and for hawkers to make a decent living," Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said on Friday.

"Teething issues are inevitable. But despite teething issues, the SEHCs have actually achieved some good outcomes - not only for the patrons but also for the hawkers."

Dr Khor announced in October that NEA will do a "stock take" of the not-for-profit hawker centre model, which allows social enterprises and cooperatives to run these centres.

Operators of these hawker centres were plagued by criticism from the public in the last three months, with claims of unreasonable contracts and exorbitant costs imposed on hawkers as well as low footfall.

Under previous arrangements, some operators did not allow hawkers to terminate their tenancies until the tenancy ends or a new tenant is found.

The hawkers also said they had to pay exorbitant legal fees to the operators.

At hawker centres which operate around the clock, some hawkers ended up operating their stalls for 20 hours.

Stallholders at Our Tampines Hub hawker centre, for example, said they had to work 16-hour days.

Seven out of 114 hawker centres are currently managed by private social enterprises and cooperatives - Fei Siong Social Enterprise, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre+Hawkers, Hawker Management by Koufu and OTMH by Kopitiam.

From Jan 1, 2019, hawkers at SEHCs will no longer have to pay legal fees, as the costs will be absorbed by the operators.

All the SEHC operators will also have their rules for early termination of contract standardised with NEA's, which require only a month's notice in writing, with the termination date falling on the last day of a calendar month.

For example, if notice to terminate the tenancy is given on Jan 1, the contract ends on the last day of that month. But if notice is given on Jan 2, it ends on the last day of February.

Meanwhile, NEA said it will continue to work with both the operators and stallholders to ensure that the needs of the public for accessible and affordable food are met.

The authority said all operators have answered NEA's call to form hawkers' feedback groups in the hawker centres they manage, and at least one feedback session has been conducted in each of the new hawker centres.

It will continue to engage these feedback groups to clarify and make adjustments, so as to better address challenges faced by hawker, and go on with its "stock take" of the hawker centre model.

"NEA visited many hawker centres and worked closely with the operators to review key terms of their contracts. We will continue to review the operators' contracts and make further changes as necessary," the authority said.

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