Speech for Adjournment Motion on “Nurturing a Thriving, Innovative and Sustainable Hawker Industry as a Cornerstone of Singaporean Culture” by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment
1 Chairman, I thank the Member for his Motion of Adjournment, and the many MPs like Mr Gan Thiam Poh and Ms Joan Pereira who have filed questions and spoken in support of our hawkers.
2 Indeed, our hawker trade is a key part of Singapore's history and identity, very much loved and treasured by Singaporeans.The inscription of our hawker culture by UNESCO is a proud achievement for all hawkers and Singaporeans.
3 To ensure that the hawker trade and culture continue to thrive for future generations, we have been working closely with hawkers and stakeholders to, as Mr Leon Perera said, professionalise the trade, improve working conditions and keep barriers to entry low. Our policies ensure rentals remain affordable. We work closely with the hawker community to support new hawkers and encourage existing hawkers to adapt to changes, as we future-proof our hawkers and hawker trade. That is to protect and to promote them.
Supporting Hawkers in the COVID-19 Pandemic
4 To support our hawkers in weathering COVID-19, we have provided eight months' rental waiver and six months' subsidies for table-cleaning and centralised dishwashing fees since April 2020. Eligible hawkers also received $9,000 under the Self-employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS) in 2020.
5 Given the disproportionate impact of recent COVID-19 clusters on some markets and hawker centres, we will provide stallholders in centres managed by NEA or NEA-appointed operators one-off $500 support under the Market and Hawker Centre Relief Fund in early August. Those who continue to face financial difficulties can reach out to NEA, and we will review the case and provide assistance on a case-by-case basis.
6 Stallholders in other F&B establishments, coffeeshops, food court, have also been supported during this pandemic. Stallholders that contribute CPF for their employees from October 2019 would have received 17 months of wage support under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS). During this recent P2(HA), eligible stallholders in Government-owned commercial properties will receive one-month rental relief. And those in privately-owned commercial properties will receive 2 weeks rental relief.
7 To help F&B operators, Enterprise Singapore has reintroduced the Food Delivery Booster Package for the P2(HA) period. Eligible stallholders can also apply for financial support under the COVID-19 Recovery Grant (CRG).
8 The Government is committed to supporting our hawkers as well as stallholders in other F&B establishments. We will continue to monitor the situation and assess the need for further assistance.
9 As Mr Perera is well aware, food courts and coffee shops are operated commercially by private operators. Stallholders and the F&B operators enter willingly into commercial arrangements, after assessing the business potential. Regardless, everyone aspiring to become hawkerpreneurs always has the option of securing a stall in NEA centres, which are open to all Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents. As Mr Perera has acknowledged, rentals are more affordable at NEA centres, where median monthly rental of non-subsidised hawker stalls is $1,250. This is because of policies such as doing away with a minimum bid price through tenders, which is the most transparent manner of allocating such stalls, to allow hawker centres to serve as our community dining room while ensuring that hawkers can earn a decent livelihood, even as they provide affordable food for Singaporeans.
Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHCs)
10 Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres (SEHC) operators will ensure each, not just a few, stall sells at least one item priced $3 and below. This provides affordable options while allowing hawkers to provide diverse food offerings, and sell additional items with higher profit margin.
11 The SEHC model is working well and has benefited hawkers and patrons. Average occupancy rates at SEHCs remained high at 98% in June 2021, with very little turnover. Operating costs, including rentals, are on par with comparable existing centres. And during this pandemic, operators have demonstrated their useful role by helping their hawkers adopt online food delivery, and curating activities to attract footfall.
Supporting Aspiring Hawkers and Preserving Hawker Heritage
12 Beyond COVID-19, we must ensure our hawker culture and food continue to thrive for future generations.
13 We have been working closely with hawkers and stakeholders to sustain the hawker trade. Building on veteran hawkers' advice, so we talk to the hawkers constantly, we have taken steps to provide new hawkers with necessary skillsets to boost their chances of succeeding. For example,we started the Hawkers' Development Programme (HDP)last year. 376 participants have completed their classroom training. 96 are currently being mentored by experienced hawker mentors under the HDP's apprenticeship stage.
14 Aspiring hawkers can also participate in NEA's Incubation Stall Programme (ISP), which provides up to 15 months' rental subsidies and fitted-out stalls to lower start-up costs. SEHC operators have also developed similar programmes. To date, 92 aspiring hawkers have participated in these programmes, with 38 becoming full-fledged hawkers. The median age of these hawkerpreneurs is 36.
15 To help sustain the hawker trade and heritage, we are piloting the Hawkers Succession Scheme (HSS) to help retiring veteran hawkers pass down culinary skills, recipes as well as stalls to aspiring successors through an apprenticeship and mentorship programme.
16 I am happy to see many younger hawkerpreneurs contributing to our hawker culture through both traditional and modern hawker fare.
Futureproofing the place and trade
17 COVID-19 has presented learning points on futureproofing our hawker centres and hawker trade.
18 To make hawker centres cleaner, safer and more productive, we introduced the Hawker Centres Transformation Programme (HTP), which will include improvements such as better aisles and tables spacing to minimise crowding, and high-volume-low-speed fans to improve ventilation.
19 We also encourage hawker centres to get onto the Productive Hawker Centres (PHC) programme and adopt automated tray return systems and centralised dishwashing.
20 To help hawkers enhance business resiliency, the Hawkers' Productivity Grant (HPG) co-fundsthe purchase of equipment to streamline business processes.
21 The pandemic has brought to the fore online food delivery for hawker food. While this is no silver bullet, it is one way to help hawkers boost their revenue. To help defray costs of onboarding food delivery platforms, NEA provided hawkers with one-time $500 support last year under the Food Delivery Support Scheme.
22 There is, however, no easy or one-size-fits-all solution. Hawkers have different needs and preferences, and not all hawker food is suitable for food delivery. Beyond the larger delivery platforms, there are various others that hawkers can work with, such as WhyQ and Bungkus. And each adopts a different business model – some provide on-site support to manage online orders and some have different fee structures. Some charge hawkers little or no commission, with costs borne by consumers. Each model has its benefits and targets different segments of hawkers and consumers.
23 Hawker representatives, online food delivery platforms, and the community have come together with NEA and IMDA to convene an Alliance for Action (AfA) on online delivery for hawker food. This aims to address challenges hawkers face in using delivery services.
24 The AfA will look at raising hawkers' awareness and understanding of different platforms, facilitate their onboarding and equip them with the means to successfully market their food online. It will also explore more sustainable platform costs for both hawkers and patrons by exploring different business models.
25 Meanwhile, our Digital Ambassadors from SG Digital Office will continue to support hawkers by helping them get onboard e-payment and online food delivery platforms. Hawkers can also approach NEA for help, as suggested by Mr Perera. We have made good progress, with about half of cooked food stallholders in our hawker centres having adopted some form of food delivery, and almost 70% of them on e-payment. We aim to develop an ecosystem of support, where all hawkers – tech-savvy or otherwise – can join if they wish.
26 We can all do our part to keep hawker centres vibrant and safe by patronising our hawker stalls on or offline, and adhering to Safe Management Measures as well as of course clearing our trays, dirty crockeries and litter when dine-in resumes.
27 In this regard, let me assure you that you can visit the hawker centres which are open, with peace of mind, as MOH has completed a one-time pre-emptive swab for all working in our hawker centres and also placed them on Rostered Routine Testing (RRT). Deep-cleaning and disinfection of affected centres have also been carried out, and we have also implemented access control.
28 The Government will continue to work with stakeholders, but ultimately, it is up to all Singaporeans to support our hawkers to ensure that our hawker trade and culture continue to thrive.