Higher cleaning charges main grouse of Old Airport hawkers

This article is more than 12 months old

MP responds to allegations about hawkers at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre made to work long hours, needing permission to take leave

A 40 per cent to 50 per cent rise in cleaning fees has emerged as the main grouse among hawkers at the popular Old Airport Road Hawker Centre since it came under management of NTUC Foodfare in July last year.

Footfall, some claim, has also fallen, further eating into profits.

But allegations that they were being made to work long hours, or needed permission to take leave were not true, they told The Straits Times.

The Old Airport centre has become the latest to come under scrutiny amid an ongoing debate over the way hawker centres are run.

On Tuesday, a Facebook user named Gary Ho, who described himself as a long-time patron of the hawker centre, claimed that a hawker he spoke to complained about higher cleaning fees, being forced to buy annual insurance of more than $100, having to work "super long hours", having to report their working days to management and having to sign contracts in English without a translator to help.

The post has since been removed, but in between, both NTUC Foodfare and the area's MP, Mr Lim Biow Chuan, responded to the allegations.

The operator said that it goes through tenancy contracts with the hawkers by running through a checklist which is in both English and Mandarin.

Having insurance is mandated by the National Environment Agency's own regulations, but hawkers are free to engage their own insurers, Foodfare explained.

A stall application form available on Foodfare's website states that for cooked food stalls, there is a requirement to operate for a minimum of six days each week and for eight hours each day.

But Foodfare clarified that just two hawkers at the Old Airport Road centre have to abide by these rules. These are new hawkers that started operations in the centre since Foodfare took over.

The other hawkers who have been there before can decide their own operating hours and days of stall closure as long as Foodfare is kept informed.

The operator did acknowledge that cleaning charges have gone up, but this was because it had to bring in a new contractor after the previous one went missing in June last year.

An interim cleaning contractor stepped in for six months at the previous rate, after the NEA and Foodfare helped with sourcing and negotiations.

An open tender was then called last September to appoint a new contractor from this year, and it was the centre's Hawker's Association that decided on the winning bid.

Pastry and dim sum stalls now pay $374.50 (up from $250), drinks and dessert stalls pay $513.60 (up from $350) while cooked food stalls pay $588.50 (up from $450).

Mr Lim, the MP for Mountbatten, told The Straits Times that the hawkers told him that Foodfare had never compelled them to work long hours.

Addressing the Facebook user's claim that he had kept silent even after hawkers had mentioned their unhappiness to him, he said it was "untrue" as he received no such complaints.

He added that it is up to the individual hawker to determine what is a reasonable amount of time to work, and it also depends on what Foodfare expects from new applicants for stalls in the centre.

Mr Lim acknowledged that there was unhappiness about the increase in cleaning fees but added that it was a difficult issue for Foodfare to address due to manpower costs.