Elderly ice cream sellers forced to hang up helmets after taking licking in licence row

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 November, 2007, 12:00am

Hawkers on motorcycles selling ice cream and drinks will vanish in Kowloon at the end of the year when the last three district vendors retire.

One of them is Lai Hoi-choi, 82, who has been selling ice cream for 56 years.

'I started my hawking business in 1951,' said Mr Lai, who plies his trade in La Salle Road. 'There were about 30 of us in the trade back then, but now only 10 are left. Some have retired and some have passed away,

'Since the licence cannot be transferred to others or inherited by my children, I will return it to the government. Most of us in the trade are old men now.'

Mr Lai said there were about 10 motorcycles selling ice cream and cold drinks throughout the city. The other two hawkers in Kowloon were 72 and 73.

They had to hand in their licences by the end of the year to receive the HK$30,000 compensation offered by the government.

'I now make about HK$300 a day. I want to continue working, but I have no choice,' Mr Lai said.

He said he would miss the smiling faces of children surrounding his motorbike.

'The children are just like my friends. We have chats and fun when they come to buy ice cream,' he said.

His partner, Shek Kit-wah, who has distributed ice cream and soda to hawkers in Kowloon since 1997, will also close his store in January.

'I can no longer work as a distributor for the ice cream driver as only three hawkers are working in Kowloon and all of them will surrender their licences to the government before the end of December,' he said.

The chairman of the Dairy Products, Beverage and Food Industries Employees Union, Cheung Chee-hung, called on the government to reissue licences to people who wanted to join the trade to revive the dying industry.

'The government stopped issuing licences to hawkers selling ice cream in 1993,' he said. 'There are about 30 ice cream hawkers, including 10 on motorbikes. The rest are ice cream trolleys. If the government does not reissue licences to people who want to join the industry, the sight of motorcycles selling ice cream will soon become just part of our collective memory.'

Mr Cheung also said most of the hawkers in the trade were elderly men who preferred making their own living to getting the dole.

'They can now make a few thousand a month, and business is not too bad. If these old men can make a living, those who are unemployed surely can do the same if they are given a chance to enter the field.'

Meanwhile, lawmakers yesterday urged the government to conduct a comprehensive review of its policies on hawker licensing and management.

A motion by Wong Kwok-hing and amended by Vincent Fang Kang, urging flexibility in the handling of renewals was passed in a Legislative Council meeting.

But Audrey Eu Yuet-mee's amendment calling for hawker licences to be reissued was rejected.

Democrat James To Kun-sun said more licences could result in the same management problems as in the past.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing said that in the past three years there had been 299 complaints of nuisances caused by street food stalls, although there were only 28 of these left.

He said a review on hawker licensing policy would be finished by the middle of next year.