Hawkers chip in to clean Ayer Rajah Food Centre

Hawkers at the Ayer Rajah Food Centre have been rolling up their sleeves and doubling as cleaners since last week, after their contractor pulled out due to a work permit issue. But help may be on the way soon.

Their association's chairman, Mr Bernard Thia, told The Sunday Times yesterday that it has reached a verbal agreement with another contractor for next month.

Some of the cleaners may even be former prison inmates from the Yellow Ribbon Project, which helps integrate ex-offenders back into society.

Hawkers said the centre's problems started about two weeks ago when Ministry of Manpower officers acted on a tip-off and found a cleaner there without a work permit.

Temporary cleaners were brought in but they lasted just a few days. At the start of last week, the hawkers were notified that they had to manage the 80-stall centre's cleaning.

"It was difficult because we're going to be open for only about a month, and few contractors want to do such a short contract," said Mr Thia.

After next month, the centre in West Coast will close for six weeks for repair and repainting.

They have been doing their best, said the hawkers, but tables can get "messy" when crowds peak during lunch and dinner hours.

"Some customers ask me why there are no cleaners. If they have to wait and wait for the hawkers to clear the tables, sometimes they will just go away," said one stallholder who declined to be named.

When The Sunday Times visited yesterday shortly after lunch, an officer from the National Environment Agency was seen walking the grounds. Hawkers said the officers sometimes remind them to collect the dirty crockery and clean the tables.

Administrative assistant Joyce Chua had to wait a few minutes before a stall-holder came to take the dirty dishes away from a table she wanted to use.

"Sometimes it's a bit dirtier than usual, but it's not that bad," said the 32-year-old. "If people are really bothered, they can return the dishes themselves."

Mr Thia hopes to finalise the short-term contract on Wednesday. The hawkers may pay slightly higher fees of $7.50 to $15 a day, from $5 to $13 previously, but there will be more cleaners under the new contract, he said.

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times.

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