SINGAPORE: The operator of Jurong West Hawker Centre on Monday (Oct 15) said it will meet tenants over the next few days to hear their concerns after stallholders protested against certain terms in their contracts.
Tenants were charged 20 cents for each tray that patrons return, and stallholders who terminate contracts early have to continue paying basic rent until their contract is up or until the operator, Hawker Management, finds a replacement tenant, a report said.
The tray return costs can add up to S$900 a month, TODAY reported last week, citing one of the hawkers.
In its statement, Hawker Management said it would be "conducting meetings with tenants of the Jurong West Hawker Centre over the next few days to gather tenants' feedback and views on all outstanding concerns".
"Hawker Management remains committed to working closely with tenants to reach an amicable solution," it said.
A petition from 12 hawkers was sent in August to Hawker Management, the social enterprise subsidiary of listed food and beverage company Koufu, TODAY said.
Such social enterprise operators run hawker centres on a not-for-profit basis.
"STANDARD INDUSTRY PRACTICE"
In an earlier statement to Channel NewsAsia, Hawker Management had said that its tray return scheme was a "joint effort by stallholders and the management".
It was implemented to achieve two goals: To "collectively encourage customers to return their used trays and thereby creating a cleaner and more comfortable environment", as well as to "increase productivity" and provide more affordable food options for the community, said Hawker Management.
The operator also addressed complaints about penalty fees for the termination of contracts.
The TODAY report cited a hawker as saying that she had to continue paying a basic monthly rent of S$2,140 at Jurong West after moving out, and that this would continue until her three-year contract was up or until a replacement tenant was found.
Hawker Management said the terms in its tenancy agreement were "standard industry practice".
"However, we exercise flexibility and compassion, and if sufficient notice is given, we do not charge any rental for the remaining tenancy term," it said. "We also make known upfront all charges to our hawkers when they apply for a stall and before signing the tenancy agreement."
These issues were first raised in an open letter to Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor by Makansutra founder KF Seetoh.
Besides the tray return fee and penalties for giving up their stall, he said that hawkers at the centre were charged lawyer fees for contracts drafted.
"They (the operator) send professionally and independently written lawyer contracts on any update in management terms and charge the hawkers for the contracts drafted," said Mr Seetoh. "This is rather ridiculous."
He suggested that the National Environment Agency "take back control" of such hawker centres, or else allow an independent team to "check up that they deliver on their promises to help promote and make the hawker food culture viable, affordable and sustainable for even the future generations".
CONCERNS ABOUT SOCIAL ENTERPRISE HAWKER CENTRES
Concerns about social enterprise-run hawker centres have been raised before.
Two weeks ago, Members of Parliament Louis Ng and Zainal Sapari, as well as Non-constituency MP Daniel Goh, asked questions in Parliament about the extra costs faced by hawkers at such centres.
In response, Dr Khor said that stallholders of such centres - which are run by entities including Fei Siong, NTUC Foodfare and Timbre - could flag their concerns to NEA through its place managers.
At Ci Yuan Hawker Centre in Hougang, hawkers had objected to additional fees levied by operator Fei Siong Food Management.
The hawkers said that a quality control fee of S$650 a month was compulsory, but Fei Siong said this was a "miscommunication" and it was optional.
Hawkers at such social enterprise-run centres were also unhappy about charges for crockery washing and coin exchange services.
The social enterprise hawker centres include Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, Yishun Park Hawker Centre, Jurong West Hawker Centre, Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre, Kampung Admiralty Hawker Centre and Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre.