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Lim Boon Heng asks Singaporeans to pay more for hawker centre cleaning to help low-wage workers

At at roundtable discussion on wages organized by ST on Friday (30 Nov), former labour chief Lim Boon Heng said that low-wage workers are underpaid and Singaporeans should be prepared to pay more for things like hawker food and cleaning services, so as to help lift their incomes.

However, with regard to cleaning services, Mr Lim who is currently the chairman of Temasek, seems to forget that such services at hawker centres are actually operated by companies who in-turn, employ cleaning workers, including both Singaporean and foreign workers.

Even if Singaporean consumers are willing to pay more for, say, cleaning services at hawker centres, it does not mean that the money would necessary go to the workers themselves.

Take for example, it was recently reported that the new Jurong West Hawker Centre was run by a social enterprise operator Hawker Management Pte Ltd, a Koufu's subsidiary.

Hawker Management imposes a monthly fee of $1,100 on the hawkers for dishwashing service. The dishwashing service was in-turn, outsourced by Hawker Management to GreatSolutions Pte Ltd for $63,775 per month.

Koufu's boss is Mr Pang Lim while GreatSolutions' boss is Mr Pang Pok. Both are brothers as well as grassroots leaders.

If Singaporean consumers, say, are willing to pay more to the hawkers, who in-turn would double their dishwashing fees paid to Hawker Management, what is to stop Hawker Management to continue maintaining its monthly fee of $63,775 paid to GreatSolutions while "pocketing" the rest as profit?

And even if Hawker Management is willing to double its monthly fee to $127,550 to be paid to GreatSolutions, as a result of hawkers doubling their dishwashing fee, what is to stop GreatSolutions to continue maintaining the same salaries paid to the cleaning workers while "pocketing" the rest as profit?

Mr Lim, who has never actually run a business himself, did not seem to consider all these issues.

Furthermore, it is understood from speaking with the hawkers who run stalls under the Social Entreprises scheme run by the National Environment Scheme that the hawkers are advised against raising their prices even when they think that the consumers are willing to pay for the increase.

A stall in the Pasir Ris Hawker Centre managed by NTUC Foodfare told TOC that they were told to lower the price of the food they sold despite knowing that the ingredients they used are premium and their patrons were willing to pay for the food. Therefore, the stall ended up having to separate the meal into two different component so as to meet the requirements put in by NTUC Foodfare. In another hawker centre at Whampoa, a dessert stall hawker was told that he can't make a ten-cent increase of his dessert unless NTUC Foodfare gives the approval.

So who is actually against hawkers selling their food at a higher price?

Editor's note - The lack of minimum wage and the low hawker food prices tie in together for the current government policy. If hawker prices were to be increased to market prices, the citizens will find that their wages are too low to afford the cost of living which would then put pressure on government in regards to the minimum wage proposal.