A popular Facebook post airing hawkers’ supposed complaints about the way NTUC is running Old Airport Road Food Centre is making the rounds online and garnering hundreds of angry comments.
The post, written on Tuesday (Oct 23) by a regular patron, Gary Ho, mentioned complaints purportedly made by hawkers after NTUC Foodfare took over the hawker centre as managing agent.
These include allegations that they were made to sign legal documents that they didn’t understand, having to buy insurance for areas outside their stall, and a large increase in cleaning fees.
In the post, which has since been removed, Ho said that hawkers said they were being made to open their stalls for “super long” hours, despite a lack of customers at particular times, and physical difficulties for elderly hawkers. Ho added that some hawkers felt they might as well retire if forced to comply.
The post comes after hawker food advocate KF Seetoh wrote an open letter to Senior Minister of State, Dr Amy Khor, to return the management of these SEHCs to the NEA.
In the letter, Seetoh wrote that the contracts hawkers in privately-run Social Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs) are made to sign involve high costs, numerous penalties, and long minimum operating hours.
Old Airport Road Food Centre is one such SEHC.
NTUC Foodfare responded to Ho’s claims on Facebook yesterday (Oct 24), refuting some of the allegations.
It said that the insurance hawkers were made to buy was “required by NEA” and in practice at other NEA-managed hawker centres. The insurance covers claims like fire and food poisoning, “for the hawker’s own protection”.
The company added that hawkers could engage their own insurer if they wanted, and that the tenancy agreements hawkers had signed were in both English and Chinese.
NTUC Foodfare also said that only two hawkers at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre were required to open for eight hours a day. These hawkers had been “newly-awarded” a stall, and the rules were meant to “cater for three meals a day for diners”.
However, it admitted that hawkers’ monthly cleaning charges had increased after the previous cleaning contractor “had gone missing”.
The company found a new contractor this year, and cleaning charges were raised by an average of S$150. NTUC Foodfare said the hawkers were informed of this last December.
Mountbatten Member of Parliament Lim Biow Chuan also responded to Ho’s post today (Oct 25), claiming that allegations of hawkers having to work long hours was “incorrect”.
“What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening,” he wrote. “Just visit some of the other empty food centres at night and you will understand their concerns.”