Old Airport Road Food Center / photo: thebestsingapore

A viral Facebook post by Gary Ho on Tuesday (23 Oct) revealed the extent to which hawkers are treated by the management of the hawker centre, and in this particular case, NTUC’s oppressive rules against hawkers at the iconic Old Airport Road Hawker Centre following its takeover was highlighted.

Mr Ho recalled: “When I went there yesterday, one of the hawkers I know very well was lamenting to me how recent changes are going to kill the hawker centre.”

He elaborated that the hawkers “were all made to sign ridiculous legal documents in English without a translator informing them what they were signing.

When the hawkers asked about what the contract entails, the “ang kong kia” said “nothing much lah” and to “just sign”.

Mr Ho wrote that it was as though “NTUC hired a bunch of debt collectors to visit them,” according to his recollection of the hawker’s account.

He questions NTUC’s motive of making hawkers sign such legal documents without a translator present, or without providing an appropriate translation in print.

According to the hawker, wrote Mr Ho, stallholders are “made to buy mandatory insurance of $100+ per annum which covers the public areas outside their stall,” on top of footing hefty “monthly cleaning costs,” which “rose to $500+ from $300+.”

“They have seen it rise from $4 to $80 to $100+ to $300+ last round and now $500+,” added Mr Ho.

“Stalls that sell mainly takeaway items and have nothing to wash are also charged the same rate now, whereas the previous contractor voluntarily gave them a slight discount since they used less resources,” he wrote, noting that NTUC has also apparently ignored hawkers’ requests for a discount in such a case.

“I know costs have risen, but is this profiteering? If the previous contractor could do it at $300+, why the almost doubling of charges?” Mr Ho lamented.

Mr Ho also chided the inaction and “silence” of the Member of Parliament responsible for protecting the hawkers’ interests, and mentioned that the hawker has expressed gratitude towards food guru KF Seetoh for highlighting the issue to the public.

Restrictive opening hours were also an issue raised by the hawker, with old hawkers particularly being affected. Mr Ho wrote: “They said if they force them to open, they might as well close and retire.”

However, he stressed, the hawkers’ point “is very valid,” and wonders why NTUC would pressure hawkers into operating their stalls for long hours even when there is virtually no incoming traffic of diners during certain periods.

“Hawkers are independent operators … Since when has NTUC become their boss? Also, how does forcing elderly hawkers into working long hours make things any better?”

“Seriously, you [the Government] talk about hawker centres being important (AND THEY ARE!), but you are doing everything possible to make hawkers lives more difficult.

“Soon there will be no more hawkers left and all the delicious cheap food will go with them,” warned Mr Ho.

Netizens have also expressed their anger and disappointment towards NTUC and the government for the appalling treatment of hawkers, particularly seeing that hawker centres have been touted as “social enterprises”:

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