Changes a good first step, say stakeholders
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
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