No more beer promotion at hawker centres as NEA enforces ban

Photo: The Telegraph / ALAMY
Photo: The Telegraph / ALAMY

In January, Asia Pacific Breweries (APB) rolled out its Alcohol Sales/Service Educational Tools (ASSET) programme across the island “to help coffee shops and hawker centres serve alcohol more responsibly”, a Channel Newsasia (CNA) report said.

The programme “equips front-line staff with the knowledge and skills to handle intoxicated customers and cope with alcohol-related problems.”

APB said it has trained almost 500 out of its 580 promoters at hawker centres and coffee shops, and it has also since opened the programme to major operators of food centres such as S11 and Kopitiam.

“In the coffee shop environment, the operational staff as well as beer promoters have a relationship with our customers, because most of them are regulars,”  CNA reported Mr Vincent Cheong, Manager for Corporate Communications at Kopitiam Investment, as having said. “So with this close relationship, we are sure that these customers will have a better ‘buy-in’ to this drinking programme.”

The programme had even drawn approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA).

“This will help address the potential issues of public disorder and disamenities that may arise from excessive drinking,” the MHA reportedly said in April.

APB also said “the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) supports the programme and has offered to shoulder half the costs of training for Singaporeans and Permanent Residents”, according to a CNA report.

Now, and barely two weeks after the CNA report in April, the National Environment Agency (NEA) has decided to clampdown on the promotion of beer at hawker centres altogether.

The clampdown, however, does not apply to coffeeshops.

The NEA said it was taking action after receiving “feedback” from patrons and stallholders about alleged problems they were facing from the beer promotion.

The NEA said the “disamenities” included touting or harassment of patrons by promoters competing for business; and that drinking patrons would hog tables at the hawker centres for hours.

Beer promotion has not been allowed here since 1995.

The NEA has also said that beer promoters are not allowed to work in hawker centres as they are not registered stall assistants or stallholders themselves.

They however can work at coffeeshops as long as the coffeeshop owners meet employment conditions, including foreign worker quota rules.

It is believed that there are some 600 beer promoters in Singapore, with APB hiring most of them. The promoters are mostly from China, Malaysia and Vietnam, and are paid about S$1,000 a month, with commission of 5 cents to 10 cents per bottle they sell.

The clampdown on beer promotion, which started a few weeks ago, has seen patrons moving to coffeeshops instead, with some reporting a jump in business of 30 per cent the last weeks.

Some coffeeshop owners are reportedly asking for more beer promoters from beer companies to deal with the increase in patrons.

However, some stallholders at the hawker centres are nonplussed.

“Coffeeshops and hawker centres both serve the public,” Mr Charles Law, who runs two drink stalls at a hawker centre in Whampoa, told the Straits Times. “Basically we are the same kind of business, why should we be treated differently?”

His beer sales have fallen by 30 per cent since the ban, he said.

Singapore introduced new liquor legislations which came into force on 1 April.

Under the Liquor Control (Supply and Consumption) Act, drinking is banned in all public places from 10.30pm to 7am every day.