Vendors close market in protest amid fears of high rent increases
Kobi Chan and Martin Wong
Stall vendors in a Tseung Kwan O wet market closed their businesses yesterday to demand that the Link Reit ensure a reasonable rent increase.
Large banners reading 'The Link's management is in chaos, affecting hundreds of families' lives' were hoisted outside the padlocked Choi Ming wet market as 78 vendors protested inside.
Wu Kin-yip, who has operated two seafood stalls at the market for six years, fears another rent increase.
'The rent has risen twice since the opening of the wet market in 2002. My initial rent was about HK$20,000. It is now about HK$30,000.'
The rents of the various stalls are set by Goldrise Investment, a firm that contracts the market from the Link, a real estate investment trust. Goldrise's contract with the Link ends in the first week of next month, but there are no signs of meaningful negotiations, the stallholders say. They fear a large rent increase.
Rosita Wong, general manager of Goldrise, said it was still negotiating the lease.
'I cannot say whether there will be a rental rise to vendors. It all depends on the Link: if they can reduce our rent, we will lower vendors' rent,' she said. 'We urge the authority to give us the information about the new lease as soon as possible. The authority should re-evaluate the rent, and not raise it unreasonably.'
Mr Wu said his business was facing enormous difficulties. 'The wholesale price of seafood has risen by about 35 per cent compared with the same period last year. And I dare not set the price too high, as some consumers may be scared away.'
Another stallholder, Cheung Ho-fai, who sells fresh fish, took the same view. 'My burden will become heavier if the rent increases while workers' salaries and other expenses continue to surge,' he said. 'The stall rent has increased several times in recent years. The air conditioning is not working well, since the authority neglects the wet market.'
The chairman of the Choi Ming Market Association, Wong Wood-chi, said vendors were having difficulty making ends meet. 'We might take further protest actions if we do not get a reasonable solution from the Link and the contractor,' he said.
To Yuk-yin, who has lived at the nearby Choi Ming Court for seven years, said the market's food prices were high. 'The average price of the meat is about HK$39 per catty [600 grams], while the price at a nearby market is about HK$34 per catty,' she said.
The Link said it was still discussing tenancy matters with the contractor.
'The Link has maintained contacts with individual stall tenants to understand their situation,' a Link spokesman said, adding that it would do its best to ensure the wet market remains open.
'The Link respects the spirit of the contract. Leasing discussions are handled in a way consistent with common market practice.'