Hawker applicant accuses Kopitiam Group of imposing a “modern-day slavery” system on hawkers

Recently, social enterprise operators which run the new hawker centres owned by National Environment Agency (NEA) have been in the spotlight. They have been accused of charging high prices on hawkers for their ancillary services in addition to stall rentals.

Kopitiam Group, for example, charges an additional $1,200 on hawkers at Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre for "dishwashing and cleaning services". In total, they collect at least $50k from the 42 hawkers operating there every month for their "dishwashing and cleaning services".

Also, note that Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre has been touted as the FIRST 24-hour hawker centre in Tampines:

Matter brought up 2 years ago

In fact, two years ago (Oct 2016) before Kopitiam Group started managing Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, a reader had written to TOC accusing Kopitiam Group of imposing a "modern-day slavery" system on hawkers. The Kopitiam Group started operating the hawker centre in Nov 2016.

At the time, the reader was interested to apply for a stall at Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre. So, he contacted OTMH Pte Ltd, the "social enterprise" unit under Kopitiam Group in charge of the hawker centre.

He was told that there won't be any tender for the individual stalls. The stall rentals were fixed at $4k, $3k, $2k and $1.5k depending on what the stalls were selling. And the best part was, OTMH has the right to "entirely and solely" allocate the stalls to whoever at their "discretion". See contract:

"We are told to operate the stall ourselves and advised strongly to operate longer hours to have a good chance of getting selected; minimum selection on the forms is 12 hrs and the longest is 24 hrs. I am not sure if this is not a modern day slavery under the hood of so called social-enterprise," the reader lamented.

"The terms state clearly that the selection process is totally under the discretion of the company, not under National Environment Agency."

In other words, by implementing some of the private coffeeshop concepts like offering 24-hour service in Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, Kopitiam Group would require hawkers to open their stall for longer hours. Naturally, they are more keen to select those hawkers willing to operate for 24 hours, 7 days a week so as to keep the hawker centre operating non-stop at every hour.

Hawkers, like any other working Singaporeans, also need rest and holidays. They also need family time after work to talk or play with their kids. It's no wonder the reader accused Kopitiam Group of instituting a "modern-day slavery" system on hawkers, which no doubt, would maximise Kopitiam Group's revenue.

The reader also felt that it was unfair for Kopitiam Group to decide on hawkers without tender as, after all, the hawker centre is built using public money and still owned by the government. The social enterprise operator is merely a managing agent for the hawker centre.

"Why is an enterprise given so much more space that they are free to manage themselves or give to their ‘select’ hawkers to operate without giving any detail of the selection process?" the reader asked.

Ancillary charges

Then, like the other social enterprise operators, OTMH also imposed high ancillary charges on hawkers:

  1. Table cleaning - $500 subject to GST
  2. Dishwashing - $700 subject to GST
  3. Facilities management - $300 subject to GST
  4. POS and icashbox rental - $100/200 subject to GST

There is also a whole bunch of charges like:

  • Photography
  • Stainless steel equipment
  • Crockery and cutlery (2.5 times the normal quantity to cater for dishwashing)
  • Legal fee
  • Paper roll for cash machines
  • Repairs and parts for cash machines

"If this new scheme is for the benefit of average citizens, why is there so much above average (ancillary) fees?" the reader asked.

And NEA also imposes that each stall must sell 2 items at $2.80 each to ensure affordability. The reader shared that it would place a squeeze on hawkers as they have to ensure food meals are sold at low price but need to pay high prices to social enterprise operators due to the high ancillary charges on top of rentals.

The current practice is reminiscent of medieval days how landlords squeezed the living out of the peasants.