Subsidies for social enterprise hawkers

The centralised dishwashing service has helped stallholders to address the need to hire assistants, pay additional water charges or manage an inventory of crockery and cutlery, says Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy
The centralised dishwashing service has helped stallholders to address the need to hire assistants, pay additional water charges or manage an inventory of crockery and cutlery, says Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

NEA grant will cover half of dishwashing fees next year and 30% the year after

Stallholders at social enterprise hawker centres (SEHCs) will receive subsidies to help pay for dish-washing services from next year.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will pay half of the hawkers' dishwashing fees next year, and in 2020, it will pay 30 per cent of them.

The money will come from the Productive Hawker Centres grant, after the NEA announced yesterday that it is extending it to Singapore's seven SEHCs.

Hawkers could see dishwashing costs drop from $700 to $350 a month next year, going by costs listed in an Our Tampines Hub SEHC contract being circulated online. Plates and cutlery from stalls are sent for cleaning at a central dishwashing hub at each SEHC.

Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said on Facebook: "New hawker centres take time to establish themselves. We want to help stallholders better manage their operating cost in the initial start-up phase of their businesses when they are trying to build up a clientele."

Social enterprise hawker centres have recently been criticised by members of the public for allegedly charging stallholders exorbitant costs, while business has been slow.

Last week, the NEA announced that several "onerous" contractual terms will have to be tweaked by SEHC operators to protect the interests of their stallholders.

Some hawkers are currently required to work six days a week but from Jan 1, they can choose to work five days, and they will no longer have to be "locked in" to lengthy tenancy agreements.

They will also not have to pay exorbitant legal fees or heavy fines for breach of contract.

Seven out of 114 hawker centres here 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 have 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 return and dish-cleaning.

 
 
 
 

Said NEA chief executive Tan Meng Dui: "Besides reviewing the contractual terms between operators and stallholders, NEA also conducted a review of the operating costs faced by stallholders at our new hawker centres."

He added: "Many of the costs faced by the stallholders, like service and conservancy charges and table-cleaning fees, are 'pass-through' charges.

"We hope that by extending the Productive Hawker Centres grant for centralised dishwashing service to stallholders, this will help them to better manage their operating costs in the initial years."

Dr Khor added: "The hawker trade has been facing the challenges of an ageing workforce and manpower constraints.

"The centralised dishwashing service has helped to address this as stallholders need not hire assistants, who are hard to find, or pay salaries of up to $1,500 a month.

"This also saves stallholders from paying additional water charges or managing an inventory of crockery and cutlery that have to be replaced due to wear and tear or loss.

"Hygiene is better as they do not have to carry out dishwashing in the stall area. We hope this will alleviate the workload of our hawkers, especially older hawkers, and make the trade more attractive to young hawkers by reducing menial work."

One male stallholder at Our Tampines Hub, who is in his 40s, said: "This is very good for us as it takes the burden off our costs. But I hope more can be done to increase the number of people here."

Meanwhile, Hawker Management announced measures yesterday to improve its SEHC at Jurong West Street 61, such as a weekday bus shuttle which will run between the foodcourt and Jurong Island from Dec 10.

It will also collaborate with Boon Lay Community Centre and launch an awareness campaign with taxi drivers in a bid to increase footfall.

Questions on hawker management will be asked in a Parliament sitting next Monday.

They include inquiries on the factors considered before the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources decided to outsource hawker management from the NEA to private companies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2018, with the headline 'Subsidies for social enterprise hawkers'. Print Edition | Subscribe