Hawker fined S$3,500 for closing stall produces email exchange that differs from Foodfare's account

NTUC Foodfare has also given further clarifications in response to her account.

Matthias Ang | November 22, 2018, 02:58 PM

On Nov. 19, socio-political site Independent.sg put up two articles involving two hawkers running stalls at Changi Airport Terminal 4's Food Emporium food court who were supposedly subjected to hefty fines by NTUC Foodfare in spite of their health.

The first article alleged that the hawker passed away after working 18-hour days to avoid getting fined by FoodFare.

In response, Foodfare said they never received a request or appeal from the stall owner to shorten the stalls' operating hours, which according to the hawkers' licensing agreement with Foodfare are 5am to 11pm daily.

The operator also said it "rendered (its) assistance" towards the family of the deceased hawker.

A second statement for the second account

Both the first and second articles also carried the story of another hawker who was fined S$3,500 for closing her fish soup stall at Food Emporium for a week after her father, the main chef, suffered an injury.

Foodfare issued a second statement in response, saying they offered to waive the charges where they could, including the S$3,500 penalty, and aided the licensee, surnamed Tan, in facilitating the transfer of the stall to another.

Foodfare added that the offer to waive the S$3,500 penalty was on condition that the stall was opened within three days of the email that was sent. This was after Tan had closed the stall beyond what was supposedly the period of her father's medical leave, which was seven days.

The stallholders' side of the story

On Tuesday night, Tan reached out to Mothership to share her side of what happened, with email exchanges that seem to show quite a different story, especially pertaining to her father's medical condition and circumstances.

In them, we found several differences in details between the exchange and Foodfare's public statement.

Here's a timeline of what happened, according to Tan and the email exchange:

June 5: Tan's father suffered an injury to his foot while working at the stall — he was tired and a box of fish had fallen onto his foot. He saw a doctor and got an MC from June 5 - 9, and she wrote to Foodfare to inform them they would be closing the stall from June 6-7.

June 6 - 7: The family closed the stall.

June 8 - 25: Tan reopened the stall and her father worked there throughout. There was no closure of the stall during this time.

June 10: Tan emailed Foodfare requesting to terminate the stall's licence agreement, explaining that her father's leg hurt and she foresaw he would not be able to operate the stall for an extended period. Foodfare did not acknowledge this email.

June 11: Tan's father got a second MC as his injury was not better yet. This MC lasted from June 11-13, but the stall remained open throughout this period.

June 12: Tan's father's condition deteriorated, however, so he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a toe fracture and was put on hospitalisation leave from June 12 to July 10. Tan then sent an email with the MC, X-rays and additional documentation to inform Foodfare of the situation. Foodfare did not reply to Tan's email at this point.

From this day onward, Tan's father ran the stall by going in the morning to cook, and then would stop for the rest of the day while Tan and two helpers operated the stall (her father is the only one among the four of them who can cook).

Here's a picture of the certificate that gave her father a month's hospitalisation leave:

Photo of MC courtesy of Ms Tan

In case you can't see the text, here it is:

"Medical Certificate - Right 5th toe fracture

This is to certify that the above-named patient is on Hospitalisation Leave for 29 days from 12 June 2018 to 10 July 2018 inclusive."

June 25:

- Tan closed the stall after her father suffered too much pain in his leg to continue working, and wrote an email to Foodfare requesting time to close the stall from June 26 to July 10, citing the remaining hospitalisation leave her father was entitled to.

- Foodfare responded to Tan, asking what food the new tenant would be selling.

- Tan responded requesting forms for the transfer from Foodfare, saying the tenant would be selling Japanese food.

- Foodfare told Tan she has to first withdraw her termination notice, and obtain approval from Foodfare's management before proceeding with the transfer of the stall.

- Tan's stall remained closed from this point until the next tenant started operations.

June 28: Tan said the new tenant she found can start operating the stall from Aug. 1, 2018. She added that she can operate the stall again from July 11 to 25, after which she would allow the new tenant to renovate the stall before she hands it over to them.

June 29: Tan and the new tenant met with Foodfare representatives.

July 3:

- Foodfare emailed Tan to alert her that she had breached contract terms for not operating for more than seven days, and would therefore be liable to a fine, unless she reopened her stall by July 6 (within three days).

- Tan responded that she had previously alerted Foodfare to her hospitalisation leave until July 10, and re-appended the documents she previously sent on June 12 as well.

July 4: Foodfare responded to Tan with the following:

"Dear Ms Tan,

The subject refers; we will still need your stall to be operational.

Do note that this is already the 3rd time that your stall was not operational due to your Dad MC.

Be reminded that once your stall goes into more than 7 days non-operational , It will immediate result in pre-termination.

I have taken up the responsibility for a goodwill 3 days to ensure transferring process to go through.

If you are only able to operate after 10 July as per mention in your email, this will be over the 3 days good will period. Please kindly ensure that the stall is operational as per the good will period. Do note that today is already Day 9 of non-operation.

Thank you."

Tan then responded explaining that apart from already having told them about her father's situation prior, there were also staffing issues that she had repeatedly raised to them in the past, as well as a licence restriction that prevents her from hiring foreigners, which resulted in her inability to take on anyone to replace her father as head chef of the stall (she had two other helpers apart from herself who cannot cook).

The previous two times the stall had to close were also due to severe cuts her father had sustained, which she provided medical documentation for and received no response from NTUC to.

She also raised the transfer of stall process, where she, the new tenant and Foodfare had met again on July 2 and "discussed and acknowledged it does not make sense to reopen the stall when Mini Wok Pte Ltd wants to take ownership ASAP."

She also said she would be willing to reopen the stall after July 10 to bridge any additional time between then and the next tenant's commencement of operations.

July 9: Foodfare responded that she would not be required to open the stall anymore, and that they approved and will continue with the transfer process to the next tenant.

Foodfare: Tan had not obtained "authorisation" to close her stall

When Mothership.sg contacted Foodfare for clarification, a spokesperson for Foodfare said that while Tan had indeed informed Foodfare of her intention to close the stall from June 26 to July 10, she immediately closed the stall on June 26 without obtaining the required authorisation to do so.

As such, the "unauthorised" closure for the next seven days would have invoked the pre-termination clause stated in the leasing agreement. 

The spokesperson further added that while they understood that Tan's father required rest, they did not stipulate that her father had to be the one operating the stall.

The spokesperson said given that Tan also operated other stalls in other locations with hired help, it was up to her to fulfil her contractual obligation by managing her manpower needs.

The spokesperson also highlighted that this closure was the third time the licensee had done so without authorisation, adding that on the first occasion, Foodfare waived the penalty and on the second occasion, Foodfare imposed a token fine.

(These three times, as outlined in Tan's account to us, were all cases of her father's injuries, which she notified Foodfare of when they happened.)

Foodfare did not make clear, however, how authorisation should rightfully be obtained before a stallholder can close his or her stall without breaching contract terms.

Not aware of the term of pre-termination for remaining non-operational for more than seven days

Tan also stated in an email on July 3 that she was not aware of the contractual clause that would penalise her with termination if she did not operate the stall (without authorisation to close) for seven days, even upon raising her father's MC.

When Mothership.sg asked Foodfare about how hawkers with Foodfare are made familiar with the term, the spokesperson replied that it is stated as pre-termination clause 4.5 in the leasing agreement.

Here's what the clause states, according to the spokesperson:

"In the event of a breach for four consecutive days or for seven days aggregated on separate occasions during the license period, we shall in our absolute discretion have the right to terminate the leasing agreement and forfeit the security deposit."

The spokesperson also said this was highlighted separately in their email exchange with Tan.

(The email exchange does not include any explicit mention of this exact clause, although Foodfare's representative referred to it in this way:

"It has come to my attention while processing the transfer, your stall has not been operational for more than 7 days. Currently it is at 8 days non operational base on record due to your dad injury which resulted in his MC.

However, please kindly take note that for non operating for more than 7 days, it will invoke the contractual terms of per-termination.")

The Foodfare spokesperson said it had ultimately decided not to enforce its contractual provision, which would have resulted in Tan forfeiting her entire security deposit, as opposed to the S$3,500 they are withholding from it after Tan had deducted her remaining stall rental that she agreed to pay Foodfare for.

Top photo from Andrew Tan's Facebook page . This is not the actual stall referenced in this case


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