New scheme to help retiring hawkers pass on stalls and skills to safeguard hawker culture

Retiring hawkers can now hand over their stalls to non-relatives, under a new succession scheme to be piloted next year.

SINGAPORE - Some retiring hawkers who previously could not handover their stalls to non-relatives will be allowed to do so under relaxed rules, as a new scheme is rolled out to ensure hawker culture in Singapore stays alive.

The hawker succession scheme, proposed by a workgroup formed last year to suggest solutions to longstanding problems faced by hawkers, will match retiring hawkers with new entrants to the profession. 

It widens the pool of people older hawkers can teach their recipes and pass their experience to, no longer limiting their handover plans to only those in their family, who might not be as interested to carry on the trade. 

The announcement on Tuesday (Nov 24) by the National Environment Agency (NEA) comes after an expert international panel last week recommended that Singapore’s hawker culture be put on the Unesco intangible heritage list, for which the official results will be announced in December.

If the nomination is successful, Singapore will have to submit a report to Unesco every six years on its efforts to safeguard hawker culture. 

The new scheme applies to “a small subset” among the 600 cooked food hawkers who currently do not have their rental subsidised and 300 who are paying subsidised rental fees, the NEA said. 

More details will be announced in the first quarter of next year when the scheme is piloted. 

Currently, only hawkers who have their rentals subsidised can assign their stalls to non-relatives. 

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Edward Chia, co-chair of the workgroup that proposed the scheme and managing director of Timbre Group, said there are many veteran hawkers who have no one to handover their brand and recipes to. 

“We felt that this was something that was notable. It will be such a waste if some of these recipes for good food disappear from the hawker scene. 

“The succession programme is targeted at those who want to handover their recipes but can’t find successors,” he said. 

Once eligible hawkers apply for the scheme, the NEA, advised by an independent panel, will facilitate the matching of compatible hawkers. 

The plan for now is for the succession scheme to be restricted to those who have at least 15 years of experience operating their stalls in hawker centres, the NEA added. 

There is a longer-term hope that the scheme will help the profession attract younger hawkers, with the median age for hawkers currently being 59 years old. 

The workgroup had found that there continues to be negative public perception towards the hawker trade, and hopes to “refresh the narrative” and celebrate hawker culture further so the younger generation sees in it a viable career. 

Mr Lim Gek Meng, a hawker of nearly 40 years who also co-chairs the workgroup, said he feels the succession scheme’s relevance even in his own family. 

He took over his father’s fishball noodle business, but is now unsure if his children will run it after he retires. 

He said in Mandarin: “Succession is a very serious problem for hawkers. It is not an easy profession, as we have to wake up early, return home late and wash dishes. 

“Stalls can also be quite hot and humid. It is a difficult environment.”

The workgroup had progressively suggested several schemes to the authorities and some of these have already been implemented. 

A hawkers’ development programme, which offers subsidised training fees, paid apprenticeship and allocation of subsidised stalls to new aspiring hawkers was launched in January this year. 

The NEA said close to 150 participants have already completed the training stage of this programme. 

Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Amy Khor, who visited Ghim Moh Food Centre with Mr Chia and Mr Lim yesterday, said the recommendations to sustain the hawker trade and keep hawker culture vibrant were timely and feasible.

“We will review the report by the work group and implement other ideas offered in the report in due course,” she said.