Locals don't want to be stall helpers

Locals don't want to be stall helpers
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily

She is offering $100 a day to a Singaporean or permanent resident (PR) to become her wonton mee stall assistant at Jalan Besar.

Despite the offer, which is higher than the norm of $60 to $70 a day, the response has been poor.

Madam Linda Heng, 50, who owns the Da Jie Famous Wanton Mee stall at a Jalan Besar coffee shop, tried hiring a month ago but to no avail.

Some of them wanted to work only certain days of the week, or certain hours, while others bargained for a lighter workload.

The assistant is expected to help prepare ingredients, keep the stall clean, take orders and serve food.

Madam Heng, who has been in the business for 14 years, finally hired someone last week, but he didn't last a day.

So her search continues.

The dearth of local stall assistants is a major problem, she said. She relies on her husband and three parttimers to get by.

She told The New Paper that an extra pair of hands will ease the backbreaking workload and allow her to sell more.

But Madam Heng, who owns a food stall licence, is able to hire only a Singaporean or a PR, according to Ministry of Manpower rules.

This is where her problem lies: Few Singaporeans are willing to take up the work.

"Many in the younger generation don't have the passion to cook or become a hawker.

"So they are not committed to such a job, especially when the work is tough and the hours are long."

Madam Heng arrives at her stall at 4.30am every day. She stops selling noodles at 2pm, but that is not the end of her day.

She has to clean her stall and begin preparing the next day's ingredients.

It is usually 9pm by the time she finishes work.

FIVE HOURS OF SLEEP

Madam Heng, who has three children aged 18 to 26, sleeps five hours before getting up at 2am to start the process again.

She sells a few hundred bowls of noodles each day.

An additional assistant would allow her to focus more on cooking - a task that is handled only by her - and sell 10 to 20 per cent more.

"A few days ago, I had to close early because I was just too tired, even though we hadn't reached the amount we wanted to sell," she said.

She earns about $1 per bowl, which is priced at $3 and the profit margin has, she said, diminished over the years due to increasing cost of raw materials, wages and rent.

Her manpower costs are about half her total costs.

Madam Roza Arus, 59, a stall assistant in Toa Payoh, said that many in the younger generation prefer office jobs.

Madam Kasmah Sukor, 44, who runs a nasi padang stall at a hawker centre in Amoy Street, said: "Many complain about the lack of air-conditioning and standing for long hours, and said they don't want to wash bowls."

So she has to prepare the ingredients, cook and clean, reducing her overall output and profit.

So why not just increase prices? Said Madam Heng: "You cannot do that because it will drive customers away. People make noise even when prices go up by 10 cents."

She said a nearby stall lost nearly half of its customers after increasing its price by about a dollar to $4.

"Some people asked me why don't I operate for longer hours.

"My response is: Do you want me to work myself to death?"

"What I do then is to keep my customers happy and coming back. I make sure I sell them quality noodles so they will tell others about my food."


This article was first published on August 22, 2015.
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