New scheme to help retiring hawkers pass on stall and skills to safeguard hawker culture

SINGAPORE – Non-subsidised hawker stallholders who wish to retire will now be able to pass on their stalls to non-relatives, in a new hawker succession scheme proposed by a workgroup set up to safeguard hawker culture in Singapore.

It is the first such scheme directly aimed at pairing new entrants with older ones for “succession”, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said on Tuesday (Nov 24), directly tackling a problem that the industry has long been facing.

The national median age for hawkers is currently 59 years old, with old hawkers finding it hard to attract new entrants due to, among other reasons, strict rules that previously mandated some of them could only pass on their stalls to relatives and family members.

Under the new scheme to be piloted in the first quarter of next year, the NEA, with the advice of an independent panel, will match these retiring hawkers with new entrants so that their recipes and culinary skills can be passed on, while allowing them to mentor new hawkers on how to best manage their stalls.

The 19-member workgroup, set up in April 2019, is made up primarily of hawkers.

It is co-chaired by Mr Edward Chia, Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP and managing director of Timbre Group, and Mr Lim Gek Meng, chairman of the Chinatown Complex Hawkers’ Association and former vice-president of The Federation of Merchants’ Associations.

Until the change, only stallholders with rentals subsidised – those who were relocated from the streets in the early 1970s or allocated stalls under a previous Government hardship scheme – were allowed to assign their stall to non-relatives.

Other proposals by the workgroup will be reviewed and implemented by the NEA, and more details will be announced next year.

Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment Dr Amy Khor, responding to the proposals, referred to hawker culture’s ongoing nomination to the Unesco intangible cultural heritage list.

She said the workgroup report is “timely” and helps to tackle key challenges faced in the hawker trade.

“The idea is to facilitate the transmission of recipes, skills and practices which might be lost if the veteran exits the scene without a successor,” she said.

If hawker culture is successfully inscribed on the list, Singapore will have to submit a report to Unesco every six years on its efforts to safeguard hawker culture.

The review carried out by the workgroup had identified five main challenges facing the hawker trade, namely: the negative public perception towards the hawker trade, difficulties faced by new entrants in entering the profession, challenges faced by veteran hawkers in finding successors, increasing challenges and competition from other food and beverage entities and limited support for purchase of equipment.

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If the Unesco nomination is successful, hawker culture will join more than 463 other items similarly identified, including Chinese shadow puppetry in China, the making and sharing of kimchi in North and South Korea and yoga in India.

There are currently about 6,000 hawkers spread over 110 hawker centres.

Evolving together with Singapore’s urbanisation through the years, hawkers have transformed from being individuals selling their fare on the streets to the stallholders at the more built-up hawker centres of today.

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