Ice cream sellers may get new but limited licences

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 January, 2009, 12:00am

Hawkers say plan is too restrictive

The government may resume issuing licences to ice cream hawkers but with restrictions, including a term of three to five years and a ballot to decide where they can do business, a union representing the trade says.

The union is not happy, saying a restricted term would deter hawkers from investing in equipment, and the ballot idea does not make sense.

Cheung Chee-hung, chairman of the Dairy Products Beverage and Food Industries Employees Union, said the proposal was outlined during a meeting with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department in November.

'The department said that if the government did issue licences ... it wanted to review the licensing system again in three to five years' time,' Mr Cheung said.

No licences have been issued for ice cream vendors since 1993 and existing lifetime licences expire when the holders die or leave the business.

Mr Cheung said the latest plans lacked flexibility.

'It costs about HK$10,000 to invest in an ice cream trolley. It costs even more to buy a motorcycle for selling ice cream, as it is not easy to find three-wheel motorbikes in Hong Kong now,' he said.

'If a licence is only valid for three to five years, nobody will be willing to invest so much just to do business for so few years and join a trade with so many uncertainties in the future.'

Mr Cheung said ice cream hawkers now only had to tell an ice cream company where they wanted to do business.

The company would then check if there were other ice cream hawkers in the area, to avoid competition.

'But the government wants to change this and require everyone to join a ballot. It does not make any sense. What if an ice cream hawker who lives in Sheung Shui is assigned to sell ice cream in Stanley by the ballot? Ice cream hawkers can now find a spot that is agreeable to other hawkers and close to their homes,' he said.

'Also, ice cream hawkers on motorbikes have to move around due to seasonal change and school holidays to do business. The present system is more flexible than the government proposals.'

Many ice cream hawkers want the government to issue licences to people wanting to join the industry, and allow close relatives to inherit the existing licences.

The Food and Health Bureau and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department are conducting a review of hawker licensing policy.

'We have completed consultation with all the 18 district councils and trade associations. With regard to the itinerant hawker licences, most of the district councils had no objection to issuing new licences,' the department said.

'We will brief the Legislative Council panel on food safety and environmental hygiene by the end of the 2008-09 financial year on the ... review of hawker licensing policy.'

The department said consideration might be given to specifying a validity period for any new licence, which would give a permitted operating area within which hawkers could choose where to do business.