Changes a good first step, say stake­hold­ers

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS -

look into th­ese is­sues. She ac­knowl­edged that there were still con­cerns, in­clud­ing the cost borne by hawk­ers. NEA, she added, is look­ing at th­ese is­sues as well, and will see if changes are also needed.

But she also re­it­er­ated that SEHCs need to be given time to find their foot­ing.

“Teething is­sues are in­evitable. But de­spite teething is­sues, the SEHCs have ac­tu­ally achieved some good out­comes – not only for the pa­trons, but also for the hawk­ers.”

Most stalls at SEHCs, she high­lighted, pro­vide three meals a day, serv­ing an im­por­tant com­mu­nity need, es­pe­cially for dual-in­come fam­i­lies that eat out. Many other ex­ist­ing hawker cen­tres pro­vide only one or two meals.

Dr Khor also said that food prices at SEHCs are gen­er­ally lower than prices in sur­round­ing food­courts.

SEHCs are also help­ing to sus­tain the hawker trade, she added. Their hawk­ers have a me­dian age of 43, much lower than the me­dian age of 60 at other cen­tres.

SEHC op­er­a­tors have put in sev­eral ini­tia­tives to nur­ture new hawk­ers. At Fei Siong-run Ci Yuan, for in­stance, new hawk­ers can rent a hawker stall for six months at half the mar­ket rate. Dr Khor shared that 10 such hawk­ers have con­tin­ued to ply the trade through this in­cu­ba­tion pro­gramme.

At Ci Yuan, 97 per cent of hawk­ers have re­newed their con­tracts, Dr Khor also pointed out.

Mov­ing on, she stressed the need to con­tinue to re­cal­i­brate the SEHC model, and to en­sure that hawk­ers’ views are taken on board.

“Even though the op­er­a­tors have had dia­logues with the hawk­ers on an ad hoc ba­sis, we must have a more struc­tured process so that th­ese is­sues can be re­solved to­gether and quickly,” Dr Khor said.

SEHC op­er­a­tors have been asked to form hawk­ers’ feed­back groups. The seven cen­tres have each or­gan­ised at least one feed­back ses­sion, with NEA rep­re­sen­ta­tives sit­ting in.

Said Dr Khor: “Op­er­a­tors and hawk­ers can hence be­come joint part­ners in the hawker cen­tre, to dis­cuss things that can make the hawker cen­tre bet­ter.” A good start, but tweaks will be needed along the way. At the same time, hawk­ers and op­er­a­tors of so­cial en­ter­prise hawker cen­tres (SEHCs) should also learn to work closer to­gether in ad­dress­ing is­sues.

This seemed to be the sen­ti­ment of var­i­ous stake­hold­ers, af­ter the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Agency (NEA) moved to ad­dress some of the prob­lems high­lighted by hawk­ers in re­cent months.

En­tre­pre­neur Elim Chew, who chaired the 18-mem­ber Hawker Cen­tres Pub­lic Con­sul­ta­tion Panel that rec­om­mended the not-for-profit hawker cen­tre model in 2012, said: “Op­er­a­tors and hawk­ers need to take joint own­er­ship and work in part­ner­ship too.”

A hawker at the Hawker Cen­tre @ Our Tampines Hub, who de­clined to be named, be­lieves the changes an­nounced by the NEA yes­ter­day would help young hawk­ers find a foothold. “Some hawk­ers are still young and pas­sion­ate, and need the en­cour­age­ment to stay on in this line,” he said in Man­darin.

Still, some at the hawker cen­tre, which is run by OTMH by Ko­pi­tiam, won­dered if it will con­tinue to op­er­ate 24 hours. There have been com­plaints that there is in­suf­fi­cient foot­fall in the wee hours to jus­tify the open­ing hours at some stalls, even though it was res­i­dents who had voted for the scheme.

Food critic K. F. See­toh, who has been vo­cal on the is­sues af­fect­ing SEHCs, said the mea­sures were a step in the right di­rec­tion. But he called for fresh ways to in­crease foot­fall at some cen­tres, in­clud­ing bussing in tourists. He added: “On­line and so­cial me­dia pro­mo­tion can also be ad­dressed.”

An NEA rep­re­sen­ta­tive told the me­dia yes­ter­day that the agency’s “stock take” of the so­cial en­ter­prise model has yet to be com­pleted, and that more changes will soon be an­nounced.

“Go­ing for­ward, NEA, as the reg­u­la­tory agency, will re-bal­ance the soft­touch reg­u­la­tory ap­proach to SEHCs, and ex­er­cise greater over­sight to en­sure the needs of both pa­trons and hawk­ers are well served,” said the NEA spokesman.

Ch­eryl Teh and Calvin Yang

ST PHOTO: JEREMY KWAN

So­cial en­ter­prise hawker cen­tre op­er­a­tors have put in sev­eral ini­tia­tives to nur­ture new hawk­ers. At Fei Siong-run Ci Yuan Hawker Cen­tre (left), new hawk­ers can rent a hawker stall for six months at half the mar­ket rate.

A BET­TER MODEL

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