The founder of Makansutra, KF Seetoh, has finally spoken up for hawkers who are struggling to earn a decent living. 

While our dear Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is enthusiastic about promoting Singapore's hawkers as a UNESCO heritage and culture icon, it seems like he does not realise the difficulties that stall-owners face everyday.

Our Leeder recently talked about having Social Enterprise Hawker Centres to improve social objectives and serve the common good. We're not sure if he meant common good for ordinary Singaporeans or "common good" for the high SES people in their ivory towers. The fact is, as KF Seetoh highlighted, these hawker centres force stall-owners to pay high rent and yet sell their dishes at less than $3. 

How is this sustainable? What do our ministers understand about not making enough money? How do they expect our poor hawkers to earn a living with these impractical rules?


"The folks at social enterprise food centres pay a total of $4000 pmth on average. The shocking facts, (just some) seen in some of the contracts, include compulsory payments for 

  • “Coin changing service”, 
  • A Gross Turnover Profit percentage (they take a percentage of your overall takings each month or basic rents, whichever is higher),
  • Separate charges for crockery washing, collection and return (despite efforts and cost to facilitate self tray-return)
  • And this brazen clause (see image) that hawkers pay the management $600 a month to have them spot check their food quality and operation ( in short, charge the hawkers to do what they naturally do anyway). As if they know better than the hawkers how to cook and operate. 
  • They also have monetary penalties like in a food court model for closures and they are expected to open 8-12 hours a day (minus preparation time). The law only allow people to work up to 12 hours a day. The old NEA hawker centres will allow emergency closures like for health, religious holidays and personal issues, just let them know.
Despite these startling high cost of operation and management fees, they are expected to offer at least one dish at below $3 in the menu...
Operating public hawker centres are very different from running private food courts. So before we shout to Unesco about how our hawker centres are also humbling entry level business opportunities for the poorer folks in our midst out to offer cheaper meals to the public and bond them, I urge the minds at the top to rethink this very worthwhile culture of Singapore and to keep it relevant and evolve organically for the next generation."
Let's just keep our fingers crossed and hope our favourite hawker haunts are still alive.


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