Street protest threat by market traders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 May, 2009, 12:00am

The Alliance of Hong Kong Public Market Retailers has threatened to paralyse traffic in Central by staging a protest involving 300 goods vehicles and 1,000 wet market stall operators next week if the government refuses to scrap new terms added to their rental contracts.

The threat came after a meeting between the alliance and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department broke down yesterday.

Alliance convenor Wong Chai-wai said the department had not consulted stallholders about the new contract terms.

'We welcome constructive talks,' he said. 'If the government fails to give us a satisfactory reply by Tuesday, we will hold the demonstration. We have not picked a date yet, but we will probably act around 1pm to 2pm any day after next Tuesday.'

Mr Wong said many wet market stall operators were angry about the contracts which included new terms restricting wet market stall operators' rights of renewal, length of tenure and demands for payment of rates, air conditioning and other service charges.

'But stall operators only had to pay the rent which covered everything in the past,' Mr Wong said. 'Also a new term states the department has the right to change the use of stalls and decide what items should be sold. This gives it a lot of authority over how stall operators run their business.'

The alliance also accused the department of misleading stall operators, especially the old or illiterate, into signing the new contracts.

A department spokeswoman said the contract had been introduced in response to an Audit Commission report last year. That had found that the government had lost HK$160 million on 104 public markets.

'The contract is made to last for one year, as the government has frozen rents for a year from July to June next year,' the spokeswoman said.

'Department staff explain the content of the rental contracts to stall operators before they sign. Our department will forward the views expressed during the meeting to the concerned bureau.'