SINGAPORE: Encouraging the return of trays at hawker centres will not deprive cleaners of their jobs, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor said in Parliament on Tuesday (Mar 6).
"Cleaners are not going to lose their jobs, just because we become more considerate and return our trays," she said during her ministry's Committee of Supply session. "Cleaning is not an easy job that attracts many, especially locals."
The Government has funded initiatives like automated tray return systems (ATRS) and centralised dishwashing services in existing hawker centres undergoing renovation. These systems will be rolled out in phases to up to 25 existing hawker centres over the next few years.
"Cleaning companies cannot hire enough cleaners and existing cleaners have difficulties coping with clearing crockery and cleaning the tables, particularly during peak hours," Dr Khor continued.
"By returning our own trays, we allow cleaners to focus on cleaning tables, improving productivity and the quality of their jobs."
To improve tray return rates, tray return stations in new and upgraded hawker centres are located in highly accessible and visible locations, Dr Khor added, noting that the stations are also getting a facelift to make tray return a "more pleasant experience".
In some hawker centres, behavioural nudges and visual cues – like posters on tables and messages on cleaners' aprons – are used to improve tray return rates.
Results have been "encouraging", Dr Khor said, noting that the tray return rate at Zion Riverside Food Centre has increased by about 20 per cent. The National Environment Agency (NEA) will roll out similar initiatives to more hawker centres this year, she added.
In addition, the ATRS with deposit system has been piloted at two hawker centres in Marsiling and Bukit Merah to encourage patrons to return their trays.
"We hope that over the longer term there will be no need to have such a system, after tray return becomes second nature," Dr Khor stated.
In the bigger picture, Dr Khor said returning trays will ease the work of cleaners and allow them to concentrate on cleaning tables. The faster turnover of tables will benefit patrons, she said.
"Removing leftover food from the table addresses the bird nuisance issue and creates a cleaner, more hygienic dining environment," she added. "Returning trays with used crockery after meals is a small gesture of consideration for the next diner."
HAWKER CENTRE 3.0 RECOMMENDATIONS
Meanwhile, Dr Khor said "significant" progress has been made when it comes to implementing the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee’s recommendations, which is focused on addressing hawkers’ manpower constraints, reducing their workload and improving productivity.
For the Hawkers' Productivity Grant, 58 applications for the grant have been approved as of last month, NEA said in a release. Automation equipment purchased under the grant "must result in significant man-hours savings in food preparation and/or cooking time".
The total amount committed for these applications is about S$124,000, NEA said, adding that the equipment purchased include vegetable cutters and dough mixers.
Moving on to the Incubation Stall Programme, which lets aspiring hawkers attempt the trade, Dr Khor said a further three applications have been received in addition to the three stalls that have been taken up so far.
"The Government has invested significantly in developing and enhancing hawker centres over the years to ensure that we and future generations can continue to enjoy our unique hawker culture," Dr Khor said.