Higher cleaning bills may mean higher hawker food prices

More hawkers are facing higher bills for cleaning services as companies raise workers' wages amid a labour crunch. And that could mean customers paying more when the costs are passed on.

Stall holders in at least four hawker centres here have seen their monthly costs for dish-clearing and table-wiping balloon by as much as $140 a month since September, checks by The Straits Times have shown.

These food centres include the ones in Chinatown, Redhill, Jalan Besar and Taman Jurong.

Fees paid by hawkers for these externally contracted cleaning services reportedly range from $226 to $676 a month.

The contractors are either engaged by the National Environment Agency or through the hawkers' association representing all the stall holders at a particular centre.

Each hawker also pays a different fee, depending on the type of food being served.

At ABC Brickworks Food Centre in Redhill, for instance, hawkers selling cooked food now have to pay $15 a day, up from $11 in the past - a rise of 36 per cent.

Drink sellers pay $13, when it was $10 before, while hawkers selling takeaway items shell out $11, up from $9.

Said Mr Lim Kim Hock, chairman of ABC Brickworks Hawker's Association: "Of course, hawkers in their feedback said that they would rather pay less.

"But it's difficult to find a good contractor because of the issues they face - they have to pay more overheads because they are raising wages."

Three out of 10 hawkers that The Straits Times spoke to said they would not rule out transferring the extra costs to patrons.

One of them was Madam Chen Jin, 35, who sells claypot rice and pork rib soup at Chinatown Complex. Cleaning fees for her stall have gone from $300 to $420 in the last month.

"We are really feeling the squeeze. I don't open every day, so I don't know if I can make enough to cover the raise," she said, adding that she may raise prices if this goes on.

Another Chinatown Complex hawker, Madam Wong Mei Yoong, felt that the fee hike had not translated into better cleaning.

"There are still not enough cleaners during peak periods, so I have to clear dishes and wipe tables myself," said the 56-year-old.

But cleaning contractors said that they need to charge more as they are raising wages to attract workers, who, they say, are harder to find these days.

"If I want to do a good job of cleaning and pay my workers a decent wage, I need to charge at least $500 a month," said Mr Lim Chin Boon, managing director of Clean Solutions, which services more than 10 hawker centres.

But while most hawkers were opposed to paying more for cleaning, some said they understand the situation of the contractors.

"The cleaners need more so they can live day to day," said Mr Johnny Tan, 48, who sells porridge in Redhill.

"I won't raise my prices because the old people living here can't afford it."

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