Koufu-run Jurong West Hawker Centre charging hawkers 20 cents for each tray returned

Hawkers have launched a petition.

Belmont Lay | October 12, 2018, 11:39 AM

The burning question has been answered: Jurong West Hawker Centre is the not-for-profit social enterprise hawker centre that is charging hawkers 20 cents for each tray returned by the customer.

Today's report on Oct. 12 confirmed this is the actual hawker centre previously called out for this practice, but was not explicitly named.

This was after foodie and consultant KF Seetoh of Makansutra blew the whistle on what was happening in an open letter posted on his website, which also highlighted many other practices that incur costs for hawkers there:

Petition submitted

Koufu runs Jurong West Hawker Centre through its social enterprise subsidiary Hawker Management.

A total of 12 hawkers at the hawker centre have since petitioned the National Environment Agency (NEA) to get the operator to remove the 20 cents fee for each returned tray.

The petition was submitted in August.

The petition has also been sent to Koufu.

Jurong West Hawker Centre not doing as well

Jurong West Hawker Centre opened a year ago.

There was initial hype, but footfall has decreased steadily.

Stallholders used to make S$500 to S$600 a day in the first few months when the novelty factor was there.

Now it is about S$100 to S$200.

20 cent refund not a common practice

This hawker centre is the only one in Singapore where stallholders are the ones paying for patrons to return their trays.

Customers receive 20 cents when they return their tray, but do not pay anything to take it

This has led to disagreements between customers and hawkers.

Other social enterprise hawker centres do it differently.

Hawker centres at Ayer Rajah Crescent and Yishun Park run by Timbre Group require customers to pay a refundable deposit of 50 cents or S$1 when they take trays.

Costs escalates

Such miscellaneous costs add up.

The Jurong West Hawker Centre stallholder has to pay up to S$900 a month for tray charges.

This amount is on top of the monthly S$2,140 rent and overhead costs.

The monthly overhead costs include S$1,100 in washing and collection fees, S$250 in service fees and S$300 for an automated cash machine allocated to each stall -- making up a total of nearly S$4,000 per month.

This was the same figure corroborated and reported by Seetoh as well.

NEA aware of dispute

The NEA said that it has received “feedback” from some stallholders at Jurong West Hawker Centre, as reported by Today.

A NEA spokesperson said stallholders were “aware of the charges involved before signing the agreement” with Hawker Management.

NEA has asked Hawker Management to work with the stallholders to address any concerns on this matter.

Hawker Management told Today it is reviewing the petition.

Hawkers facing similar problems

The hawkers Today and Seetoh spoke to are not the same person.

The hawker Today spoke to said her gross earnings sometimes added up to only S$300 a day after 10 hours of business.

This has led her to shut down her stall at Jurong West Hawker Centre.

However, she still has to pay the penalty for the early termination with two years left in the contract.

Hawker Management said that if “sufficient notice” is given, no penalty is involved for the hawker.

Hawkers are informed of all charges upfront when they apply for a stall and before signing the tenancy agreement, and the terms are “standard industry practice”, it said.


What is a not-for-profit social enterprise?

A not-for-profit social enterprise operates by channelling any operating surplus back into the hawker centre “for the benefit of the community”, Hawker Management said.

There are now 13 of them managed by five entities: Fei Siong Food Management, NTUC Foodfare, Timbre Group, Hawker Management under Koufu, and OTMH under Kopitiam.

Channel News Asia reported previously that hawkers at Hougang’s Ci Yuan Hawker Centre paying a S$600 fee for cleanliness inspections that appear to be mandatory.

Fei Siong, which operates the centre, later clarified that it was optional.


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