A Facebook user, Gary Ho, made a post on his Facebook page yesterday (23 Oct). In his post, Gary recalled how he loves the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre and would even take his foreign friends there to taste good Singaporean hawker food.
However, when he recently visited the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, a hawker whom he knows since he was a kid, lamented that how recent changes at the hawker centre are going to kill it.
It was earlier reported that in fact, the iconic Old Airport Road Hawker Centre has already been taken over by NTUC Foodfare to manage. Essentially, NEA outsourced the management of this hawker centre to "social enterprise" operator NTUC Foodfare so that NEA can free their hands.
Gary wrote, "Apparently NTUC took over the management of the hawker centre and they (hawkers) were all made to sign ridiculous legal documents in English without a translator informing them what they were signing."
"When they asked what was the content, the 'ang kong kia' said 'nothing much lah' and to 'just sign'. The hawker told me it is like NTUC hired a bunch of debt collectors to visit them," Gary added. "How can you make hawkers sign a legal document with no translation provided???"
The hawker also told Gary that they were made to buy mandatory insurance of $100+ per annum which covers the public areas outside their stall. "Why are they made to insure the hawker centre??" Gary asked.
Cleaning cost increases dramatically
And, as reported in the mainstream media too, the cleaning fees for the hawkers at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre increased dramatically after NTUC took over.
Gary also reported, "Their monthly cleaning costs rose to $500+ from $300+."
"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. When asked if NTUC could continue to give them a discount, silence....," Gary added.
"Is this profiteering? If the previous contractor could do it at $300+, why the almost doubling of charges (by NTUC)?"
Gary also said that the hawkers need to stay open for "super long hours" under NTUC. "The old hawkers protested to this and are not complying. They said if they force them to open, they might as well close and retire. Their point is very valid. They said why open when there is no one coming?" he said. "How does forcing elderly hawkers into working long hours make things any better?"
The Hawker also told Gary that they are very grateful to Seetoh for bringing everything up because when they mentioned it to their MP, the MP did nothing.
"Their MP was even there at the meeting when all the ridiculous changes were brought up and said nothing," Gary said, recounting what the hawker had told him.
Old Airport Road Hawker Centre lies in Mountbatten SMC under PAP MP Lim Biow Chuan who beat opposition candidate Jeannette Chong-Aruldoss in the last GE with a 71.9% win.
Gary asked why the government is making things difficult for the hawkers.
"Seriously, you 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," he said.
MP Lim rebuts Gary Ho
Yesterday night (23 Oct), someone brought Gary's post to the attention of MP Lim Biow Chuan. He immediately responded and rebutted Gary's message.
"I have just read the FB post of Gary and am most disappointed that he made those comments without verifying them," Lim wrote. He said that the only feedback he had from the hawkers was about paying more to the new cleaning contractor and not having sufficient cleaners.
"When Foodfare first met the hawkers in 2017, I had arranged for a dialogue between the hawkers and Foodfare. I was present and Foodfare assured the hawkers and me that they will maintain status quo for 1 year while they understand more about the hawker centre," Lim recalled.
But obviously, NTUC has not maintained the status quo, since from Lim's post, he has also indirectly acknowledged that cleaning fees have increased in the 1 year.
Lim said, "This issue is currently being dealt with by the Hawker's association together with Foodfare."
No "super long hour"
Lim also insisted there is no longer hours imposed on the hawkers.
"None of the hawkers had raised those issues highlighted by Gary to me. I hold the Meet the People's session every Tuesday directly above the food centre; they have ready access to me. I even went on a 3 day bonding trip to Ipoh with the hawkers in June this year when the food centre was closed for cleaning. Again, none of the hawkers raised the issue to me. To allege that I had said nothing when the 'changes were brought up' is clearly untrue," he rebutted Gary.
Several hours later, Lim updated his post, "On reflection, I didn't make this post clear. I was reacting to Gary Ho's FB post that the hawkers at Old Airport Food Centre was asked to work 'super long hours'."
"As far as I know from my interaction with the hawkers, there was no such requirement," he repeated again. "I don't believe in making hawkers work super long hours. They have to decide for themselves how hard they wish to work and what is important to them."
Lim then used his parents as example, "My parents were hawkers and I know how hard they work."
"My main point was that Gary's post that the hawkers had to work super long hours was incorrect." again Lim repeated.
"I also spoke to 4 stall operators earlier in the evening and they all said that there was no condition imposed by Foodfare that they must stay open for super long hours. Nor was there any rule that they need to report their movement or face punishment!! What punishment, they asked??"
Mr Lim's comments were made despite the official documents from NTUC Foodfare stating that hawkers are required to seek the company's permission to close the stall for more than 1 day per week or to operate the stall for less than 8 hours for any business day during the tenancy period.
"What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening. Just visit some of the other empty food centres at night and you will understand their concerns," Lim added.
Notice that in all his rebuttals, Lim zeroed in only on the misunderstanding Gary had about opening of stall for long hours and completely avoided talking about the increase in cleaning fees imposed by NTUC, and whether he thinks it is right for NTUC to do so, especially the hawkers were already happy with the previous cleaning contractor.