Jurong West Hawker Centre operator, tenants discuss alternatives to controversial 20-cent tray-return system

A man returns a tray at the tray collection point at Jurong West Hawker Centre, on Oct 13, 2018.
A man returns a tray at the tray collection point at Jurong West Hawker Centre, on Oct 13, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Modifications to a tray-return system that has stirred unhappiness at Jurong West Hawker Centre were floated during a meeting on Tuesday (Oct 16) between some hawkers and the centre's operator.

These included a possible 20-cent increase in food prices at the centre, or an alternative system in which 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 about the discussions that had transpired during the meeting based on what she heard from those who attended.

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 stallowners were being charged for the trays.

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

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 amongst (the) social enterprise hawker centres."

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

When ST visited the hawker centre at 6pm on Tuesday, 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 among those which signed 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."