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Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, at The Hawkers’ Seminar by The Federation Of Merchants’ Association, Singapore (FMAS), at Lifelong Learning Institute, 30 September 2019

TOPICS: Food, Awards

Mr Yeo Hiang Meng, President of FMAS

Ambassador Andrew Toh, Ambassador to UNESCO

Hawkers

Ladies and Gentlemen

Introduction

Good afternoon.

1             It’s a pleasure to join you at the very first Hawkers’ Seminar organised by The Federation of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore, or FMAS. I am happy to see so many hawkers here today– thank you for taking the time from running your businesses to be part of this Seminar.

 

2               The theme for this inaugural seminar is “Hawker Trade: Moving With The Times”. To me, the most meaningful part of this seminar is that it is organised by hawkers for hawkers. Through this seminar, we hope to rally hawkers together to share best practices and learn new ideas, service models and technology that will benefit both new and veteran hawkers. It is also a platform for us to recognise those in the hawker community who have made significant contributions to the trade. 

Hawker culture is an integral part of our Singapore identity

 

3             Our hawker centres and hawker culture are a key part of Singaporean life. Hawker centres are where many of us go to for delicious and affordable hawker food. Talk to any Singaporean on the streets, and they will be able to name you a list of hawker centres they visit regularly for their favourite Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, Roti Prata, Nasi Lemak and more. That’s the reason why we had Peranakan Sayang earlier to remind us of all the wonderful and delicious hawker food that we crave, especially when we go overseas. Over the years, our hawker centres have become community dining rooms, where people from all walks of life come together to bond over their love of good local food.

 

4             There would be no hawker centres or hawker culture without our hawkers. It is a tough trade that requires rising early, and long hours behind a hot stove. What has become Singapore’s trademark hawker food, is the result of years of refining and perfecting recipes. We thank you for building this defining heritage that all Singaporeans are proud of.

 

5             To celebrate our hawker culture, and the contributions of our hawkers, we submitted our nomination to inscribe hawker culture onto the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity earlier this year. We are now awaiting the outcome of our nomination, which will be announced at the end of next year. Many hawkers I met told me that they are supportive of the UNESCO nomination. What struck me even more was how many of you shared your hawker stories with pride - such as mastering the perfect plate of fried hokkien mee, or preserving a family recipe that has been passed down many generations.

Supporting our hawkers

 

6             But many of you have also told me about the challenges that you face, such as the costs of running a stall, manpower constraints, how your customer’s tastes have changed over the years, and the increasing competition from food delivery services and centralised kitchens.

 

7             These are not challenges faced by just hawkers, but the entire F&B industry. While they won’t go away overnight, I assure you that the government will work closely with you to manage these challenges.

 

8             In the past year, we have increased support to help hawkers raise productivity and cope with manpower and cost pressures. At the hawker centre level, we have increased the subsidies under the Productive Hawker Centre Grant from 2 years to 4 years. This grant subsidises up to 70% of the operating costs of productivity measures such as the automated tray return and centralised dishwashing systems in the first two years. The operating cost of the centralised dishwashing system will also be subsidised at 50% and 30% in the third and fourth year respectively. In addition, individual hawkers can benefit from the Hawkers’ Productivity Grant, which co-funds the purchase of kitchen automation equipment up to 80%, subject to a cap of $5,000 over three years from 2017 to 2020. You can tap on the fund to buy equipment such as food processors, automatic cooker, automatic noodle boiler and sugar cane press machine to help reduce food preparation and cooking time, and to overcome some manpower constraints. So far, 673 applications with a total value of about $1.4 million have been approved.

 

9             We have also appointed NETS to help roll out a unified e-payment solution for hawker centres, as well as coffee shops and industrial canteens. This solution helps hawkers to complement their cash transactions by providing customers the option to pay from a range of widely-used e-payment schemes. This is also convenient for the hawkers as they need not have to deal with multiple e-payment schemes. With more customers using e-payment, there is less hassle for hawkers to maintain a daily cash float.

 

Sustaining the Hawker Trade

 

10          Earlier this year, we set up a hawker workgroup to look into ways to sustain our hawker trade. The workgroup comprises hawkers, stall assistants, and hawker culture advocates. They have been meeting regularly over the past few months, discussing how to modernise and upskill the hawker trade, build on our current programmes, and tap on the experience of veteran hawkers to help aspiring hawkers.

 

11          The workgroup will be submitting their detailed recommendations early next year and one of their key ideas is to develop a new Hawkers’ Development Programme. NEA and SkillsFuture Singapore are working together on this programme which will be made available to both existing and aspiring hawkers.  

 

12          Under the Programme, NEA will bring together training providers to offer classes in practical areas. We have selected these areas based on past feedback from hawkers on the support they need. These include cooking skills, menu design, pricing strategy, stall layout and social media marketing. We are also working on making subsidies available, so that these classes are affordable for hawkers. We will be announcing more details towards the end of this year, and we welcome other feedback on courses which you will find useful.

 

13          The Hawkers’ Development Programme will also include apprenticeship and incubation components. We are engaging veteran hawkers to mentor aspiring hawkers through an on-the-job training programme at their stalls. This would allow aspiring hawkers to learn the ropes of the trade from these veteran hawkers. I am glad to share that 10 veteran hawkers have volunteered to be potential mentors when we pilot this programme.

 

14          The Programme will build on existing efforts to attract and support aspiring hawkers to enter the hawker trade. In 2017, based on the recommendation of the HC 3.0 Committee, NEA and PA jointly introduced the Hawker Fare Series where veteran hawkers share their culinary expertise with aspiring hawkers. Almost 270 participants have attended 26 classes so far. NEA and the Institute of Technical Education also launched a Hawker Business Management course in 2017 to equip aspiring hawkers with the skills and knowledge to run a small hawker business. The response has been good, with almost 290 participants attending 13 classes.

 

15          NEA also launched the Incubation Stall Programme (ISP) in 2018 to provide eligible aspiring hawkers with support to take up incubation stalls to start their hawker businesses. Under the ISP, NEA provides incubation stall holders a 50% rental rebate for a period of 9 months. To date, we have received over 60 applications and allocated incubation stalls to 20 aspiring hawkers. I am happy to share that two NEA incubation stallholders who are completing the incubation programme, have indicated their interest to convert their incubation stalls into permanent ones. They are Mr Kwan Yee Liang who is selling handmade noodle at Block 163 Bukit Merah Central, and Ms Michelle Yee who is selling Hakka Thunder Tea Rice and Yong Tau Foo at Chinatown Complex. I have tried their dishes and would strongly recommend you to try them too. Do visit and support them.

 

16          Based on our experience with the Incubation Stall Programme and the feedback we have received. I am pleased to announce that NEA will further enhance the Programme with immediate effect. Currently, new ISP stallholders receive 50% rental rebate for nine months. NEA will now allow the ISP stallholder to operate at the stall for another 6 months with a 25% rental rebate. This means an effective rental rebate of 40% over a 15-month period, and this will help to strengthen our support for the ISP stallholders as they stabilise their businesses and transit to a permanent stall. NEA will also offer ISP stallholders the option to continue their business at the existing stall where they have built up their clientele. Together, these initiatives form a substantial support package to help our aspiring hawkers to enter and succeed in the hawker trade.

Everyone has a part to play in preserving and sustaining our hawker culture 

 

17          Singapore’s hawker culture belongs to all of us, and it will take our collective efforts to sustain the hawker trade. This includes the young hawkers who have the courage and passion to venture into the trade, the veteran hawkers who have worked hard to hone their skills to cook up our favourite hawker fare, and Singaporeans who patronise our hawkers with their families and friends.

 

18          It is important that we recognise those in our hawker community who are actively contributing to the hawker trade, and encourage more to step forward. This is why we will present awards of appreciation and commendation today. This includes the 6 veteran hawkers who have generously contributed their time to share their culinary expertise with participants of the Hawker Fare Series. For example, Mr Neo Cheng Leong has been teaching his chicken rice recipe since May 2017, and has even mentored one of the participants who took up an NEA incubation stall. We also have Madam Hajjah, whose classes on roti prata and curry have been very well-received by many participants. They truly embody the spirit of today’s seminar, which is about the camaraderie in the community, and initiatives “by hawkers, for hawkers”.

 

19          To sustain our hawker trade, we need all hands on deck, and even more stakeholders to come onboard. This is why we have been reaching out to various stakeholders to tap on new ideas and leverage their expertise to improve our hawker trade. Our work group on Sustaining Hawker Trade is a good example. Besides the Hawkers’ Development Programme, the work group has been discussing about initiatives to better profile the hawker trade, and to share “practical tips” from hawker masters for new entrants. They are also discussing how to help hawkers leverage new trends and technology to grow their business; and to work with educational institutions to incorporate hawker culture as a part of our culinary curriculum.

 

20          Other stakeholders include the Hawker Associations, whom we will also recognise today for their strong support of various hawker centre initiatives, and operators at the new Socially-conscious Enterprise Hawker Centres who have run various programmes for new hawkers. I am happy to share that after much hard work and support from their mentors, 13 new hawkers at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre and another 2 from the Hawker Centre at Our Tampines Hub, all of whom started as incubation stallholders, have now become permanent hawkers. We are also recognising these young promising hawkers, who have a median age of 35.

Conclusion

21          To conclude, I would like to thank FMAS for organising this Hawkers’ Seminar. This is a great example of ground-up efforts to promote the hawker culture in Singapore, share ideas on how hawkers can improve their businesses, and to strengthen the community spirit within our hawker community. I wish all of you a fruitful seminar today.

22          I will next say a few words in Mandarin.

大家下午好!

小贩文化是新加坡历史和传统的重要元素,小贩中心也是我们日常生活中不可或缺的一部分。我很高兴参与由小贩为小贩首次主办的座谈会,一起探讨如何改善小贩中心的营业和将小贩行业代代相传。

如同其他餐饮业,小贩行业正面临人力短缺、食客喜好的改变、送餐服务的竞争、还有成本方面的挑战。尽管这些挑战很难在短期内解决,政府将与小贩们一起面对这些问题。

例如,我们将之前为期两年的“小贩中心生产力资助计划”延长至四年。这项津贴可补贴提高生产力措施首两年高达百分之70的成本。中央洗碗服务的费用在第三和第四年则可获得百分之50和百分之30的津贴。另外,小贩也可申请 “小贩生产力补贴” 报销购买厨房自动化器材百分之80的费用。报销总额顶限为五千元,而小贩生产力补贴的有效期为三年。至今,已有673份申请获得批准,为小贩们提供大约一百四十万元的津贴。

在我们保存新加坡独特的小贩文化的同时,也必须帮助小贩行业与时俱进,并吸引更多小贩入行。例如,除了现金付款方式以外,我们也在小贩中心推出电子付款系统。本地114个小贩中心也将全部记录在谷歌地图中。

另外,国家环境局将从即日起,进一步优化培育摊位计划。目前培育摊贩享有百分之50的租金回扣,长达9个月。我们将为培育摊贩提供额外的六个月培育期,而在这期间他们将享有百分之25的租金回扣。因为考虑到培育摊贩已在他们所经营摊位的小贩中心里建立起客户群,所以国家环境局也将允许培育摊贩把他们现有的培育摊位转换为长期性的摊位。

国家环境局和精深技能发展局也将推出新的“小贩培训计划”。其中将包括在资深小贩的摊位当学徒,还有关于烹饪、菜单设计、定价策略、摊位设计和社交媒体营销方面的课程。希望大家踊跃支持这项计划。现有的小贩和有意加入小贩行业者都能参加这项计划。

我在此祝大家今天下午有愉快和充实的交流和讨论。谢谢。

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