Makansutra founder KF Seetoh continues his campaign against the allegedly unjust conditions that hawkers working at Social Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHC) are subjected to. This time around, the outspoken local food guru highlighted how the contracts signed by SEHC hawkers includes some pretty harsh clauses that would be daunting to anyone.
These newer hawker centers are different from standard open-air food complexes in Singapore; SEHCs are run by social enterprises with the purpose to keep dishes affordable. But Seetoh believes that hawkers at SEHCs are on the losing end, thanks to rigid stipulations on how vendors can operate, on top of incompetent management.
In his post, Seetoh uploaded samples of a 51-page long contract that vendors of Kopitiam-run Hawker Centre @ Our Tampines Hub. In it contained some questionable clauses that make it hard for hawkers to operate at the 24-hour hawker center.
Strict operating hours
“They are supposed to open 24hrs a day with 2 off days. And a $250 fine for each other day they close without permission and with a week’s notice and with the managing agent’s approval. Imagine if they, or their child or parents have some medical or family emergency. Managing agent can up the penalty to $500 a day if they see fit.”
Strict limits to calories
“This SEHC contract runs 51 pages and it includes a clause that dictates how much vegetables & calories each dish should have and our beloved nasi lemak may not make the mark unless a cup of cucumbers is added.”
Mandatory maintenance of top ratings in hygiene
“Also, and hawkers would be deemed to violate the agreement if they do not maintain a ‘A’ rating from NEA ‘throughout the term of the contract’. Even established restaurants have problems maintaining it…what of these new and first time hawkers.”
Online vigilantes SMRT Feedback (who got slammed hard for initially criticizing Seetoh) agreed with the man that the contract was severely unfair to hawkers.
“This is not a social enterprise. This is legal gangsterism with hawkers paying protection fees,” SMRT Feedback wrote in a Facebook post.
“The SEHC scheme was originally launched with the aim of promoting hawker culture and also to ensure an affordable dining option for the community. And then you have sharks like Kopitiam and the Koufu group – a public listed company – dictating unfair and we dare say, discriminatory clauses that do not in any way seem like an initiative to protect the rights of hawkers.”
An open letter
Last week, Seetoh wrote an open letter to Senior Minister of State Dr. Amy Khor in a bid to have her commit to protect vendors from the allegedly unfair practices of SEHC organisations.
“These revenue-hungry private operators can rightly do their commercial rental and operation model, on a mutually agreed buyer-seller agreements in the privately owned coffeeshops, food halls and markets, canteens, food courts etc.. but please keep them away from our public hawker centres,” he wrote, suggesting that the National Environment Agency consider take over the operations of public hawker centers.
“We have to preserve low operation cost so hawkers can comfortably offer cheaper meals for poorer customers in our midst who depend on it, preserve this food heritage and encourage a new breed of hawker to rise to the fore and address continuity and sustainability.”