Remember – no matter how bad things are, some people can always make things worse.
We Common Singaporeans should know.
Every time the Ivory Tower comes up with some new scholar-worthy scheme, our lives somehow become more difficult.
That’s why it’s time to tell the government to stop messing with our hawker centres.
The tray return scheme has been a colossal failure.
The scheme was supposed to help free up more tables during peak hours, allow us to enjoy a clean dining experience, and improve overall hawker centre hygiene.
The government also proudly declared that such a scheme will not result in more cleaners losing their jobs.
Instead, this is what we have gotten (and I’m sure many cleaners, hawkers and Singaporeans who do eat at hawker centres will agree):
-a totally messed up tray return station during peak hours, locking up more tables just to put dirty dishes
-dirtier tables because cleaners are overworked, presumably because managing agents have cut back on cleaning staff
-price increases, with the increase in hawkers’ monthly cleaning fees serving as a contributing factor
-worse hygiene standards of common spaces because of overworked cleaners, over-packed tray return stations and dirty tables that still need a good wipe
The tray return scheme has failed to achieve all it’s lofty aims.
And it has made life worse for hawkers and diners who just want simple, quick and affordable meals.
Remember how this started with the failed automated tray return stations, which confined cleaners to cramped filthy spaces and deprived them of their dignity and simple comfort of human interaction.
Remember the shock when Singaporeans discovered these “automated” stations were a cheap facade even after the government handed out millions of our tax dollars to greedy corporations.
Some hawkers the SDA spoke to even persuade customers not to use trays so they can save on cleaning fees – that’s how bad things have become.
Now look broader – this whole failed scheme is simply one more reminder out of many that the scholars and generals have lost touch with the lives us Common Singaporeans lead and the daily struggles we face.
But the government is so bent on shoving this failed scheme down our throats.
So the SDA asks:
(1) Before the mandatory tray return scheme, the government proudly declared in parliament that the scheme will not result in less cleaners being hired. Can the government now affirm whether individual hawker centres have cut back on cleaning staff?
(2) From subsidies for automated tray return stations tray racks, to all marketing and communications expenses, how much has the government spent on pushing the tray return narrative?
(3) Has the government conducted research into whether the overall dining experience at hawker centres has improved, and whether welfare of hawkers and cleaning staff have improved. If so, what are the results?
There was a time when dining at hawker centres was more pleasant – there was table service and there were sufficient cleaners to go around keeping tables clean.
Eating out at hawker centres, especially during family outings, was even a joy.
Twenty years later, it seems like we took one step forward and two steps back.
We must step in now before the government and greedy corporations inexplicably destroy the experience of eating out at hawker centres for us Common Singaporeans and what remains of our much treasured hawker culture.
Chairman, Singapore Democratic Alliance