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Photo: Maverick Seah / Facebook

NEA’s changes to contractual terms between social enterprises and hawkers “a good direction forward” for the latter, but “more needs to be done regarding costs” shouldered by hawkers, says stallholder in Yishun

Following the heated discussions surrounding social enterprise operators and their seemingly coercive method of running hawker centres of late, the National Environment Agency (NEA) announced earlier this month on 9 Nov that it has reviewed key contractual terms between the five social enterprises managing the seven new hawker centres and stallholders, namely Fei Siong Social Enterprise, OTMH, Timbre+Hawkers, Hawker Management, and NTUC Foodfare Co-operative.

A stallholder who is currently operating his stall at a hawker centre in Yishun commented on NEA's recent move, saying: "I think it is a good direction forward in protecting hawker's interest and welfare.

He added that while "NEA actually reigned in some of the agents' unfair and overhanded contractual agreements," he believes that "more still need to be done on the actual fixed cost borne by the hawkers in the SEHC."

The stallholder, who wishes to remain anonymous, has previously revealed the terms and conditions imposed by OTMH Pte Ltd, the managing agent of Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, in its contract with stallholders.

OTMH is a "social enterprise" unit that was established by food court conglomerate Kopitiam Group in 2016.

In his submission to TOC, the stallholder, had initially expressed interest in taking up a stall at Our Tampines Hawker Centre.

However, he was left disappointed, as “discussions with them [OTMH and Kopitiam] showed us they neither cared for preserving hawker culture and attracting young Singaporeans to join our heritage industry, nor are they interested in being socially enterprising.”

He explained that “nothing in their contract states anything about social enterprising ideas or helping hawkers,” and that “the contract is,” in fact, “full of negativity” to the point where he felt compelled to “forego our $2000 deposit than to sign [a deal] with a devil that NEA [National Environment Agency] had allowed to prosper.”

The stallholder also noted that he had tried reaching out to the Tampines Member of Parliament, as well as the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Masagos Zulkifli, about the matter. However, he was again met with disappointment as “the office just pushed us by to be eaten up by Kopitiam, instead of protecting us hawkers.”

He added that while “Timbre is friendlier and listens to hawkers, they impose a 15% GTO on our profit.”

“This is not how a public food centre works, and it really eats into our livelihood,” lamented the stallholder.

When asked by TOC as to what he would consider a reasonable operating time frame within a day for stalls at public hawker centres, in reference to the 24-hour hawker centre operation hours stipulated and the subsequent threat to work-life balance, the stallholder suggested that “8 to 10 hours,” or “two meal services,” would be considered reasonable in his view.

The stallholder also said in response to TOC’s query regarding Kopitiam’s suggestion to consider “joint-operatorship” – potentially subletting his stall to another operator – that the suggestion is “an excuse for them to maximise profits” at the expense of the hawkers, which “runs counter to” the concept of “us being independent operators by burdening us with joint operators.”

When asked to elaborate on some of the specifics of the contract that he had discovered to be disadvantageous against hawkers, and what "negativity" entails in the contract when he mentioned in his submission to TOC that “the contract is full of negativity,” the stallholder specified that the managing agent has “the ability to fine tenants for closing early, and for closing without informing them,” in addition to having to “use their uniform, which defeats being independent” stallholders according to the original hawker concept.

The stallholder, much alike other hawkers interviewed by TOC, also expressed dissatisfaction over having to pay “so many different fees” to the managing agent should he proceed to take up the stall.