Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, at the SG Hawker Seminar on 11 April 2022
Mr. Yeo Hiang Meng, President of FMAS
Representatives and Friends from the Hawker Community
Ladies and Gentlemen
Good afternoon. It is my pleasure to join you today at the third run of the SG Hawker Seminar organised by The Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS).
2 COVID-19 has greatly impacted the lives of our hawkers. Over the past two years, the Government has been providing various forms of support to help our hawkers tide through the impact of COVID-19 restrictions. Our hawkers, who are our frontline heroes, have managed to emerge stronger, showing great tenacity and resilience.
3 With everyone's collective efforts and cooperation, the COVID-19 situation is showing signs of stabilising. While the outlook is generally positive, significant uncertainties remain. Beyond COVID-19, we have been seeing increases in prices of electricity and food ingredients such as cooking oil and eggs, due to the disruption of global supply chains and food production including those arising from the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The Government will continue to monitor the inflation situation and review its impact on operating cost of businesses and citizens' cost of living closely. Our Finance Minister had also announced at Parliament last week that the Government will be bringing forward the implementation of Budget 2022 measures where possible to help Singaporeans cope with inflation and rising business costs, including the disbursement of the Small Business Recovery Grant (SBRG) to most eligible businesses by June this year.
4 The theme for today's seminar 'Sustaining the Hawker Trade through Uncertain Times' is very apt. As we navigate the COVID-19 endemic world, it is opportune for us to review the lessons learnt from COVID-19 and look at how we can further make our hawker centres, the hawker trade as well as our hawkers future-ready.
Future-Proofing our Hawker Centres
5 COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of good public hygiene and cleanliness. To uplift cleanliness and hygiene standards, we implemented the Environmental Sanitation (ES) regime which specifies minimum cleaning standards at hawker centres last December. Mandatory tray and crockery return was implemented last September. Since then, the national average tray and crockery return rate (TCRR) in hawker centres has improved significantly from 33% to above 85%. The vast majority of patrons have taken the initiative to clear their tables after dining, and only 2 warnings have been issued to patrons who did not heed our officers' advice to do so. We want to thank all patrons for their continued support and co-operation in making this social change possible.
6 With the gradual relaxation of Safe Management Measures (SMMs) and more people returning to the workplace, we will also expect to see more crowds at our hawker centres. During the peak hours, our cleaners may need a little more time to come around to wipe and sanitise the tables after use. I hope all of us, patrons and stallholders alike, can show more patience and encourage kindness towards our cleaners, who are working tirelessly to keep our shared dining spaces clean and safe.
7 We will also continue to encourage more hawker centres to adopt the automated tray return systems and centralised dishwashing services through the Productive Hawker Centre (PHC) Programme, which not only improves productivity but enhances cleanliness and hygiene standards.
8 Besides the importance of good public hygiene and cleanliness, COVID-19 emphasised the need for more fundamental changes to hawker centre infrastructure to reduce crowding and minimise risk of transmission for future pandemics. NEA rolled out the Hawker Centres Transformation Programme (HTP) in March last year and will be adopting a consultative approach to work with the Hawkers' Associations (HAs), Town Councils and Advisers this year to pilot the programme at Cheng San Market and Food Centre and Geylang Serai Market. The pilot will look at creating a cleaner and safer environment through reconfiguration of tables and chairs as well as wider aisles to minimise crowding; ways to reduce queuing at stalls; provision to support flexible implementation of Safe Management Measures (SMMs), such as quick deployment and removal of temporary control access; installation of high-volume low-speed fans to improve ventilation and additional handwashing facilities to raise hygiene level.
9 In line with our efforts to future-proof our hawker centres, NEA has also introduced the Progressive Hawker Centre Award this year. This is a centre-level award that recognises the contributions of Hawkers' Associations (HAs) and Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centre (SEHC) Operators towards sustaining the relevance and enhancing resilience of their hawker centres through driving productivity and digtialisation, ensuring cleanliness, and enhancing vibrancy through programming. Centres are assessed on their tray and crockery return rates, e-payment solutions adoption rate, hawker productivity initiatives, food delivery services as well as their programming efforts to enhance centres' vibrancy, including initiatives under the Alliance for Action (AfA) on Online Ordering for Hawkers. These initiatives became even more relevant with Covid 19 and would continue to be so. Such centres embody the key future-ready characteristics that all hawker centres should embrace.
10 For instance, Yishun Park Hawker Centre has implemented e-payment at all the stalls, which is supported by an in-house app that also provides patrons with discount off their food purchases. Another example is Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market and Food Centre, which set up their own Digital Support for Hawkers (DSH) group to provide information on all stalls and to facilitate online group-buys from the centre. I would like to thank both the HAs and Operators of the hawker centres who have gone the extra mile and congratulate the top ten hawker centres on receiving the Progressive Hawker Centre award later today. I hope they can inspire other centres to do the same, and work towards providing stallholders and patrons with greater value.
Supporting our Hawkers to Go Digital
11 COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviour and accelerated the shift towards digitalisation. Many of our hawkers have also begun to embrace digitalisation as a means to supplement their business. Today, about 1 in every 4 cooked food stallholders have been supported via the National Environment Agency (NEA)'s Food Delivery Support Scheme.Currently, about half of our 6,000 plus cooked food stallholders are on board food delivery services, and almost 70% have adopted e-payment.
12 We have also stepped up efforts to support hawkers to be more digitally ready and get onto online ordering platforms.In June last year, hawkers, community groups, food delivery platforms, together with NEA and IMDA worked together to convene a SGTogether Alliance for Action (AfA) on Online Ordering for Hawkers. I am happy to share the progress on this front.
13 WhyQ, Deliveroo, FoodPanda and Grab have come together to pilot a Common Acquirer model for online food delivery at 14 hawker centres at zero commission to hawkers. Under the Common Acquirer model pilot, hawkers will have access to customers across the different participating online delivery platforms through WhyQ. For the less digitally savvy hawkers, they can choose to transact offline, where onsite WhyQ hawker captains will place the orders with them. The captain will collect the food and pass the payment to the hawkers, and hand the food to the delivery riders at a centralised distribution point.
14 18 hawker centres have also set up their own Digital Support for Hawker Groups (DSHs), which provide peer support to help less digitally-savvy hawkers go online. Apart from creating Facebook pages for the hawker centre, the Digital Support for Hawker Groups can help hawkers boost their business by facilitating online community group buys or bulk meal orders.
15 Let me take the opportunity to share the story of "Brostern", a Halal Western fusion stall at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre. Muhammad Roimy Bin Kassim, an award nominee for the Singapore Hawker Award, opened the stall with three of his primary schoolmates during the COVID-19 pandemic in September 2020. While their business did not do well initially, they did not give up and managed to improve their sales by leveraging on social media to do a group-buy collaboration with an old school Nasi Lemak stall called Jalan Besar Nasi Lemak.
16 Brostern also helped to coordinate hawker food orders for less digitally-savvy stallholders within the Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, catering to orders from corporate companies to schools. Brostern eventually became part of Ci Yuan Hawker Centre's Digital Support for Hawker group and helped to coordinate group buys for the centre at no extra charges. This gesture was borne out of their passion to help their fellow hawkers. Brostern has also recently opened a second stall at Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre. Their longer-term goal is to open a new stall each year across Singapore.
Building a Pipeline of Aspiring Hawkers and Sustaining the Hawker Trade
17 As we work together to future-proof our hawker centres and hawker trade, we must also ensure that we have a pipeline of new hawkers joining the trade. To attract more younger entrants to the hawker trade, NEA started the Hawkers' Development Programme (HDP) in 2020 – which provides aspiring and existing hawkers with a structured training programme on business and culinary skills, alongside an 8-week apprenticeship with veteran hawkers and an incubation stage with mentorship support and training allowances.
18 Apart from Hawkers' Development Programme, NEA has also been supporting aspiring hawkers through the Incubation Stall Programme (ISP), which offers subsidised rentals over 15 months and provides fitted-out stalls to lower start-up costs. Operators of the Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres have also put in place similar incubation programmes in these hawker centres.
19 Over the past 4 years, over 40 new hawkers have joined the trade through these programmes. Some are young budding hawkerpreneurs looking to set up their own business, while others are mid-career entrants making a switch to a new field.
20 Another award nominee today, Ms Ellis Phua of 97 Nasi Lemak from Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, did a mid-career switch after completing all three stages of the Hawkers' Development Programme in April last year. Prior to entering the hawker scene, Ellis spent ten years as an executive at an F&B company, and another eight years running her own fashion wholesale business. She eventually sold her business in 2018 to spend more time with her late mother. Ellis decided to become a hawker as she wanted to share the memories and legacy of her mother's cooking after she passed on. She has since forged ahead to expand her business with her husband by opening two additional stalls at Old Airport Road Hawker Centre.
21 Ellis and Brostern represent a new generation of hawkerpreneurs who are pursuing their culinary passion and contributing to our hawker culture. They have also shown that with the right attitude, recipe and business sense, our hawkers can also expand their business and establish a stronger brand presence. There is much that we can learn from them.
22 Let me conclude. It will take the collective efforts of the hawker community, hawker advocates and Singaporeans to ensure that our Hawker Culture can be sustained for future generations. I thank FMAS for organising this year's SG Hawker Seminar and congratulate all the winners who will be receiving their awards shortly, as well as those who have been nominated.
23 Thank you. I will now say a few words in Mandarin.