Hawker centres



Hawker centres are open-air complexes that house many stalls selling a wide variety of affordably priced food.1 They are mostly conveniently located at the heart of housing estates, usually with adjourning wet markets. Hawker centres are a unique aspect of Singapore culture and lifestyle. It is also an important place for social interaction and community bonding.2

Background
Singapore’s food culture was greatly influenced by its geographical location and its diverse population. Street peddling by hawkers of different races has been a common sight in Singapore since the 1800s.3

Street hawking continued to thrive in Singapore after World War II. This could be attributed to the high unemployment rate that prompted many people to take up hawking to provide for their families, as such work required low capital investment and skills. The demand for cheap and affordable hawker food continued after Singapore’s independence.

Itinerant hawking
While hawkers took care of the daily needs of the population, some social problems arose from an increase in the number of street hawker stalls.5

Poor hygiene
Food was prepared in less than ideal conditions due to a shortage of water and proper storage equipment. Inappropriate disposal of refuse led to an increase of flies, mosquitoes, rodents and cockroaches that fuelled the spread of diseases such as cholera, typhoid and malaria. The threat to public health was a major problem associated with hawkers.6

Unsightly conditions
The operation of itinerant hawkers was haphazard and disorganised, thus often appearing unsightly, rowdy and chaotic. They usually obstructed traffic and impeded pedestrian flow, competing with the government on the usage of land,7 especially at prime commercial areas. 

These problems led to tensions between law enforcers and the hawkers. There were also instances of corrupt practices within the police force, as hawkers resorted to bribing the police to avoid being raided.8

Hawkers Inquiry Commission
The Hawkers Inquiry Commission was set up in 1950 by Governor F. Gimson to address the problems related to hawking.9 Its objective was to investigate all aspects of hawking with particular emphasis on the social, economic and health issues affecting the public and the hawkers.10

The inaugural public meeting of the Singapore Hawker Inquiry Commission, chaired by T. H. Silcock (Prof), was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall on 20 April 1950 at 2.15 pm. The commission gathered information from the chairman of the Hawkers Association, the municipal health officer, the superintendent of the Town Cleansing Department, and a police officer. It also collected evidence from hawkers and members of the public.11 

Legalising hawkers and construction of hawker centres
The Hawkers Inquiry Report led to the formalisation of a policy to station hawkers at designated locations where they could be better controlled.12 It was a process that took years to implement.13

The exercise to legalise hawkers through an island-wide hawkers’ registration was carried out in the 1960s. Coupled with this, the government embarked on a programme to construct markets and hawker centres between 1971 and 1986.14 In 2011, it was announced that 10 new hawker centres would be built over the next 10 years.15

Governing body of today’s hawker centres
The Hawkers Department’s Special Squad was formed in 1974, and a proposal was for the Housing and Development Board and the Jurong Town Corporation to incorporate hawker centres as part of the development of new residential and industrial estates, respectively. On 1 April 2004, the management of markets and hawker centres was consolidated under the National Environment Agency (NEA).16 The NEA formulates, implements and administers hawker policies, including licensing and tenancy matters. It also oversees the upgrading of hawker centres, and currently manages 107 markets and hawker centres in Singapore.17

Regulation of food hygiene
In addition to the management of markets and hawker centres, the NEA also regulates the food retail industry in Singapore to ensure that food is prepared hygienically and is safe for public consumption.18

Points demerit system
In 1987, a Points Demerit System was introduced, where demerit points were given to hawkers if they violated public health laws, and repeat offenders might have their licences suspended or revoked. This was to ensure that hawkers maintained good hygiene standards.19

Grading of licensed food stalls
Since June 1997, food stalls in hawker centres are given a grade based on the overall hygiene, cleanliness and housekeeping standards of the stalls. All hawker stalls are required to display the grades prominently, to help the public make a more informed choice when purchasing from the stalls, and to encourage stall owners to improve. These ratings are reviewed annually.20

Hawker stalls are assessed and given the following grades:
·    A – a score of 85 percent or higher 
·    B – a score of 70 to 84 percent
·    C – a score of 50 to 69 percent
·    D – a score of 40 to 49 percent21

Hawker centres upgrading programmes
The Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP) was launched in February 2001 at a projected cost of S$420 million.22 The upgrading was carried out over seven phases and covered the following areas:

·    Re-tiling / Re-roofing / Re-wiring
·    Replacement of tables and stools 
·    Replacement of water and sanitary pipes 
·    Improvement to ventilation 
·    Provision/replacement of exhaust flue system 
·    Upgrading of toilets

By 2014, 106 hawker centres have been upgraded under the HUP.23



Author

Tung Ai Jui



References
1. National Environment Agency (2016). Announcements & notices. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres/announcements-notices
2. National Environment Agency (2016). Managing hawker centres and markets in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres
3. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 21. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
4. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 21, 25. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
5. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 25–26. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
6. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
7. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 25, 26. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
8. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 26. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
9. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 25. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
10. Hawker Inquiry opens today. (1950, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Hawker Inquiry opens today. (1950, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 27. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
13. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 29, 31. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
14. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 29, 31. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
15. National Environment Agency (2016). New hawker centres. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres/new-hawker-centres
16. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 31. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
17. National Environment Agency (2016). Managing hawker centres and markets in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres
18. National Environment Agency (2016). Food hygiene standards in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/food-hygiene/food-hygiene-standards-in-singapore
19. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, p. 43. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
20. Kong, L. (2007). Singapore hawker centres: People, places, food. Singapore: National Environment Agency, pp. 43–44. (Call no.: RSING 381.18095957 KON)
21. National Environment Agency (2015). Food hygiene standards in Singapore. Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/food-hygiene/food-hygiene-standards-in-singapore
22. National Environment Agency (2015). The story of Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP). Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres/the-story-of-hawker-centres-upgrading-programme-(hup)
23. National Environment Agency (2015). The story of Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme (HUP). Retrieved 2016, July 25 from National Environment Agency website: http://www.nea.gov.sg/public-health/hawker-centres/the-story-of-hawker-centres-upgrading-programme-(hup)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Business, finance and industry>>Industry>>Manufacturing industries>>Food, beverages and tobacco
Peddlers--Singapore
Streets and Places
Architecture and Landscape>>Streets and Places

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