Able-bodied foreigners are flying in to sell tissue paper in public areas, upsetting elderly or disabled Singaporeans who are earning a living this way.
Women in their 50s and 60s from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar have been seen selling packets of tissue paper at hawker centres, coffee shops and other places. They come as tourists, stay as long as their visas allow, and sell three packets of tissue for $1 - the same as the local sellers.
Hawkers and local tissue paper sellers said they first noticed the foreigners about a year ago.
Mr Ahmad Rafi, 65, who lost both legs to diabetes and uses a wheelchair, has been selling tissue paper at the Geylang Serai and Haig Road food centres. He said he sees at least four or five Vietnamese selling tissue paper daily at both places and his sales are badly affected.
Tissue paper seller Goh Say Lian, 65, who is blind in one eye and is a dialysis patient, said he sees a few Chinese nationals selling tissue paper in the Jurong East and Clementi areas. "They are able-bodied and can walk, yet they come here to sell tissue paper and snatch business from us," he said.
They are aggressive and wave the tissue paper in your face. This is a disguised form of begging and I feel they are taking advantage of Singaporeans' generosity.
MR MICHAEL LOH, a retired organisational psychologist, who finds it annoying when Chinese nationals approach him at food courts and coffee outlets at malls near the Jurong East MRT station
It is illegal to sell tissue paper, food and other products on the streets without a licence from the National Environment Agency (NEA). According to its website, 11 of the 362 licensed street hawkers say they sell tissue paper. The licence allows them to sell only at fixed locations.
In the first six months of the year, the NEA rounded up 145 illegal hawkers selling tissue paper, mobile phone accessories, clothes and other goods. About half were foreigners, an NEA spokesman told The Sunday Times.
First-time offenders are fined $300, while repeat offenders may be hauled to court. The NEA said Singaporeans caught hawking illegally and found to be in genuine hardship are referred to social service agencies for help.
Earnings can be substantial and it is little wonder the Singaporean tissue paper sellers want to guard their turf.
The Sunday Times found women from China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam selling tissue paper at food centres and coffee shops in Geylang Serai, other parts of Geylang and Chinatown.
A 65-year-old Thai woman said she needed to settle her debts back home and found she can earn about $50 in a few hours.
Singaporeans interviewed said they can earn $20 to $100 in a few hours. People with disabilities can earn more. A one-legged man, in his 60s and almost blind, who stations himself outside the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple in Waterloo Street, said he can collect more than $100 a day, and "a few hundred dollars" on the first and 15th days of the Chinese month, when more devotees turn up. Many give him money without taking any tissue paper. He said he sells the item because he cannot work and does not want to burden his children with his medical expenses.
Retired organisational psychologist Michael Loh said he finds it annoying when Chinese nationals approach him at food courts and coffee outlets at malls near the Jurong East MRT station.
"They are aggressive and wave the tissue paper in your face. This is a disguised form of begging and I feel they are taking advantage of Singaporeans' generosity," he said.