Several "onerous" contractual terms will have to be tweaked by operators of social enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) to protect the interests of hawkers.
After getting feedback from hawkers, patrons and operators, the National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said stalls at these seven centres can choose to open five days a week, instead of the six which some social operators require.
And if hawkers choose to open longer than eight hours, operators will need to engage them to find how they plan to do so, and if they have sufficient manpower.
Hawkers will also not be "locked" into their tenancy agreements. Instead, they can keep their security deposits - capped at two months' rent - if they decide to give up their stalls, as long as they give notice, which should not be more than two months. The changes, which also include caps to fines for contract breaches and removal of legal fees for tenancy agreements, will kick in from next year.
Speaking to reporters yesterday at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said that regardless of the way hawker centres are run, the objectives remain the same: to provide affordable food options for residents, but at the same time ensure that hawkers make a livelihood and get a fair deal.
After the recent scrutiny over the way SEHCs are run, "we note that some of the terms (of the contract) may seem onerous. Some of the contracts have been replicated by SEHCs from other food establishments, although they say they exercise some flexibility in practice," she added.
A BETTER MODEL
Even though the operators have had dialogues with the hawkers on an ad hoc basis, we must have a more structured process so that these issues can be resolved together and quickly.
SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT AND WATER RESOURCES AMY KHOR
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.
There had been complaints that some operators had based the way they run SEHCs on their experience in running private foodcourts.
There have also been concerns over how much SEHC hawkers are charged for services such as tray returns and dish cleaning.
Dr Khor acknowledged that there were still other concerns, including the cost borne by hawkers. NEA, she added, is looking at these issues as well, and will see if changes are also needed.
But she also reiterated that SEHCs need to be given time to find their footing.
"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."
Most stalls at SEHCs, she highlighted, provide three meals a day, serving an important community need, especially for dual-income families that eat out. Many other existing hawker centres provide only one or two meals.
Dr Khor also said that food prices at SEHCs are generally lower than prices in surrounding foodcourts.
SEHCs are also helping to sustain the hawker trade, she added. Their hawkers have a median age of 43, much lower than the median age of 60 at other centres.
SEHC operators have put in several initiatives to nurture new hawkers. At Fei Siong-run Ci Yuan, for instance, new hawkers are given on-the-job training to gain skills and knowledge that can help them in operating hawker stalls. Dr Khor shared that 10 such hawkers have continued to ply the trade through this programme.
At Ci Yuan, 97 per cent of hawkers have renewed their contracts, Dr Khor also pointed out.
Moving on, she stressed the need to continue to recalibrate the SEHC model, and to ensure that hawkers' views are taken on board.
"Even though the operators have had dialogues with the hawkers on an ad hoc basis, we must have a more structured process so that these issues can be resolved together and quickly," Dr Khor said.
SEHC operators have been asked to form hawkers' feedback groups. The seven centres have each organised at least one feedback session, with NEA representatives sitting in.
Said Dr Khor: "Operators and hawkers can hence become joint partners in the hawker centre, to discuss things that can make the hawker centre better."
Correction note: This article has been edited for clarity.