MP Lim Biow Chuan responds to Gary Ho’s post that he allegedly “said nothing” to the hawkers

Gary Ho, a longtime patron of Old Airport Road Hawker Centre, put out a lengthy post on his Facebook account, which recounted his own findings from the hawkers themselves and the allegedly unreasonable practices by the management.

social enterprise hawker centres

If you don’t feel like reading the wall of text, here’s a summary of what he mentioned in his post:

  • Tenants were all made to sign “ridiculous” legal documents in English without a translator informing them what they were signing.
  • Management hired a bunch of “debt collectors”, which the hawker refered to as “Ang Kong Kia” to visit the hawkers and made them to “just sign” the documents because its “nothing much lah” when hawkers asked about the content.
  • Hawkers were made to buy mandatory insurance of $100+ per annum which covers the public areas outside their stall.
  • Monthly cleaning costs increased from $300+ to $500+.
  • Stalls that sell mainly takeaway items and have nothing to wash are also charged at the same rate.
    Management kept silence when asked if they can provide discounts.
  • Hawkers were “super grateful” to KF Seetoh for speaking out on their behalf because their MP, who was notified of all the “ridiculous” changes, said nothing.
  • Hawkers are also required to “report their movement” to the management or they’ll be “punished”.
    When the hawker informed the management regarding his leave of absence, he was questioned if the stall would be manned instead.
  • Hawker was then told that there is no need to inform the management about the leave of absence if there is someone manning the stall in his absence.
  • New contract also mandates that hawkers must stay opened for “super long” hours.

You may read Gary Ho’s post in full text below:

“For those of you who know me well, you know how much I love Old Airport Road Hawker Centre! I take all my foreign friends there and to Kereta Ayer Market.

When I went there yesterday, one of the hawkers I know very well was lamenting to me how recent changes are going to kill the hawker centre. So, apparently NTUC took over the management of the hawker centre and they were all made to sign ridiculous legal documents in English without a translator informing them what they were signing. When they asked what was the content, the “ang kong kia” said “nothing much lah” and to “just sign”. The hawker told me it is like NTUC hired a bunch of debt collectors to visit them.

How can you make hawkers sign a legal document with no translation provided???

The Hawker also mentioned to me that they were made to buy mandatory insurance of $100+ per annum which covers the public areas outside their stall.

Why are they made to insure the hawker centre??

Then their monthly cleaning costs rose to $500+ from $300+. This hawker has been there since I was a kid. They have seen it rise from $4 to $80 to $100+ to $300+ last round and now $500+. Stalls that sell mainly takeaway items and have nothing to wash are also charged the same rate now whereas the previous contractor voluntarily gave them a slight discount since they used less resources. When asked if NTUC could continue to give them a discount, silence….

I know costs have risen but is this profiteering? If the previous contractor could do it at $300+, why the almost doubling of charges?

The Hawker also told me they are super grateful to Seetoh for bringing everything up because when they mentioned it to their MP, silence…. Their MP was even there at the meeting when all the ridiculous changes were brought up and said nothing.

Yo, MP, you were voted to represent the people not to keep silent!

I really got upset when I was told they now need to report their movement to the contractor or face punishments. So this hawker was told they need to inform NTUC whenever they are closing to take leave. When the hawker informed them, they asked the hawker is anyone manning the stall? The hawker replied yes, then they said no need to inform. So they were like, must report also you say, no need to report also you say.

The new contract they signed also mandates that they must stay open for super long hours. The old hawkers protested to this and are not complying. They said if they force them to open, they might as well close and retire. Their point is very valid. They said why open when there is no one coming? People who make these rules should consult the hawkers since they have been there for ages and know their operating environment well.

Hawkers are indepent operators. Since when are they now working for NTUC and since when has NTUC become their boss??? Also, how does forcing elderly hawkers into working long hours make things any better?
Seriously, you talk about hawker centres being important, (AND THEY ARE!) but you are doing everything possible to make hawkers lives more difficult. Soon there will be no more hawkers left and all the delicious cheap food will go with them.

Something is really wrong somewhere. I decided to write this long post so that you guys are aware of what is happening and know that the reports coming in fast and furious about these so called social enterprises are not fake news. We’d better go and eat there before they all leave.”

By the time we publish this, his post has garnered 3,000 over likes and 4,000 over shares.

In response to the allegations, MP Lim Biow Chuan, the MP which Gary Ho is referring to in his post, replied to a comment which notified him of the post.

social enterprise hawker centres

He also separately published a post on his Facebook account to refute the accusations against him.

social enterprise hawker centres

In summary, the MP wrote:

  • He is “disappointed” that Gary Ho had made those allegations without any verifications.
  • The only feedback he had from the hawkers were regarding the cleaning fee and insufficient cleaners. However, this issue is currently being dealt with by the Hawker’s association together with the management.
  • He had arranged for a dialogue session between the hawkers and management in 2017 and the hawkers were assured that their contract will maintain status quo for one year.
  • No change in the tenancy terms and no longer hours imposed on hawkers.
  • None of the issues which Gary Ho mentioned in his post were raised by the hawkers to him during the Meet the People’s session, which is held every Tuesday and directly above the food centre.
  • The MP also went on a three day bonding trip to Ipoh with the hawkers in June this year when the food centre was closed for cleaning and none of the hawkers had raised any issues. Hence, Gary Ho’s allegations that the MP said nothing “when changes were brought up” is untrue.
  • Gary’s allegation that the hawkers had to work “super long hours” is also not true.
  • There is no requirement from the management that the hawkers at Old Airport Food Centre must work “super long hours” and this was reaffirmed through his interaction with the hawkers.
  • There is also no rule that hawkers are required to “report their movement” to the management or they will have to face “punishments”.

Below is the MP’s reply in a comment in full text:

“I have just read the FB post of Gary and am most disappointed that he made those comments without verifying them. The only feedback which I had from the hawkers was about paying more for the cleaning contractors but not having sufficient cleaners. This issue is currently being dealt with by the Hawker’s association together with Foodfare. When Foodfare first met the hawkers in 2017, I had arranged for a dialogue between the hawkers and Foodfare. I was present and Foodfare assured the hawkers and me that they will maintain status quo for 1 year while they understand more about the hawker centre. There was no change in the tenancy terms and as far as I know, there is no longer hours imposed on them. None of the hawkers had raised those issues highlighted by Gary to me. I hold the Meet the People’s session every Tuesday directly above the food centre; they have ready access to me. I even went on a 3 day bonding trip to Ipoh with the hawkers in June this year when the food centre was closed for cleaning. Again, none of the hawkers raised the issue to me. To allege that I had said nothing when the “changes were brought up” is clearly untrue.”

Below is the MP’s full post in text:

“On reflection, I didn’t make this post clear. I was reacting to Gary Ho’s FB post that the hawkers at Old Airport Food Centre was asked to work “super long hours”. As far as I know from my interaction with the hawkers, there was no such requirement. Thus, I spoke to a few of the hawkers and visited the food centre at 10.30pm. I don’t believe in making hawkers work super long hours. They have to decide for themselves how hard they wish to work and what is important to them. My parents were hawkers and I know how hard they work. My main point was that Gary’s post that the hawkers had to work super long hours was incorrect. Hence my post – “It was 10.30pm in the evening. I had just finished my MPS and wanted to see what food stalls are still opened at the Old Airport Food centre. Many of the stalls are already closed. One of the stalls had a sign that said that operating hours are from 8am to 7pm. I also spoke to 4 stall operators earlier in the evening and they all said that there was no condition imposed by Foodfare that they must stay open for super long hours. Nor was there any rule that they need to report their movement or face punishment!! What punishment, they asked?? What Foodfare wanted to do was to manage the food centre such that it will not become a empty food centre in the evening. Just visit some of the other empty food centres at night and you will understand their concerns.”


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