The Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan, said that self-payment and centralised dish washing improve hawkers’ productivity.
In the 13th Parliamentary session on 10 Jan, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) had asked the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources:
- Whether the running of hawker centres by social enterprises on a not-for-profit basis has achieved its desired outcomes;
- Whether it has reduced the overall operating costs for hawkers and food prices for consumers; and,
- Whether it has helped attract new hawkers to the trade.
Dr Amy Khor had answered the questions for the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources. She said that to meet the changing needs of society while ensuring the sustainability of the hawker trade and the affordability of hawker food, the Government has been exploring alternative management models where social operators are appointed to manage hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis.
These operators have the flexibility to innovate and customise solutions for each centre.
There are currently four hawker centres managed by social operators:
- Blk 208B New Upper Changi Road and Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre which are managed by NTUC Foodfare Pte Ltd,
- Hougang Ci Yuan Hawker Centre managed by Fei Siong Social Enterprise Ltd, and
- Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre managed by OTMH.
Both hawkers and patrons of these centres has given largely positive feedbacks, Dr Amy Khor said.
“The operators monitor the prices of basic food items at these hawker centres to prevent unreasonable price hikes. In addition, some operators have ensured that the hawkers offer at least a few affordable entry-level meals in their menu,” she said, “For example, the stalls at the centres in Ci Yuan and Our Tampines Hub need to have at least two dishes priced at $2.80 each or below.”
To help hawkers address any manpower constraints in managing manpower costs, the operators have implemented some innovative productivity measures. For example, the operator at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre has implemented a self-payment kiosk at all stalls, allowing the hawkers to focus on taking orders and cooking.
Similarly, at the hawker centre in Our Tampines Hub, the operator has introduced a cashless payment system for the stalls, and the operators at Bukit Panjang, Ci Yuan and Our Tampines Hub hawker centres have also introduced centralised dishwashing. Besides improving the hawkers’ productivity, centralised dish washing can also ensure a more hygienic environment for patrons.
Some operators have also offered the purchasing of ingredients in bulk to help hawkers reduce the cost of raw materials, the Senior Minister said.
“The Government also has encouraged initiatives to attract new entrants to the hawker trade; for example, the operator at Hougang Ci Yuan Hawker Centre has put in place an Entrepreneurship Program where the new hawkers are given on-the-job training to gain skills and knowledge that can help them in operating hawker stalls. Thus far, 16 hawkers have benefited from this Program,” she said
Dr Amy Khor further said that hawkers can be assured that there will be no change to the way rents are determined when the operator takes over the management of the existing centres. Subsidised stall-holders will continue to pay subsidised rents while non-subsidised stall-holders will continue to pay the prevailing market rents as assessed by professional valuers. The National Environment Agency (NEA) will work with the operator to explore ways to increase the vibrancy of the centres to enhance the business there and improve the patrons’ dining experience.
Despite his second question not being answered directly, Mr Liang said that he thought the resumption in the building of new hawker centres is probably the best decision that Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources has made.
“I also support NEA’s approach to try out the new model to finesse the way our hawker centres are run,” he said.
Mr Liang then asked the Senior Minister of State whether there are:
- Good learning points since the not-for-profit model implemented, and
- Has it improved the attractiveness of the hawker professional and lower the barrier for entry for aspiring hawkers.
To answer the questions Dr Amy Khor again mentioned the Ci Yuan Hawker Centre (CYHC) at Hougang and Our Tampines Hub (OTH) hawker centre which has opened recently as an example, where the operators have proposed an entrepreneurship program to allow new hawkers to enter the trade.
CYHC, where some 16 new hawkers have benefited as noted earlier, trained these hawkers, and provided them the stalls and some initial setting-up costs to operate these stalls. In OTH, they also have a Train-and-Place entrepreneurship program where new hawkers train with veteran hawkers for about three months, and then they operate the stalls at OTH.
These have helped to lower the entry barriers for aspiring hawkers, whether they are young hawkers or people looking to enter the trade. Between Ci Yuan and OTH, there are new hawkers who were formerly an engineer, an accountant, real estate agent.
“And recently, at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I met a former Deputy Superintendent who has become a hawker. She has been selling herbal buk kut teh there for more than a month or so. Schemes like these would help,” Dr Amy Khor said.
Regarding the conservancy fees, she said at Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, the $1,600-odd is not just one component. It comprises three components:
- Service and conservancy fees for general cleaning, routine maintenance and utilities of the common area;
- Table cleaning fees;
- Centralised dish washing fees.
All these fees are market-determined and paid directly to the contractors, she explained.