Market tenants storm district council office over 'unfair terms'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 September, 2009, 12:00am

Market tenants stormed into the Wong Tai Sin District Council office yesterday to urge Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene Cheuk Wing-hing to change what they said were unfair terms in new rental contracts.

Nearly 100 public market tenants staged a protest outside council premises, where Cheuk met councillors in the afternoon.

They complained that the new rental contract drafted by the government included a series of restrictions on stall operators' rights of renewal, length of tenure and number of goods categories.

The stallholders, who have been paying a rent below the market level, will face a rent rise of up to 20 per cent every year.

Some protesters managed to enter the building, yelling through loudspeakers for Cheuk to come out and accept their petition letter.

But their request was shunned by Cheuk, who said it was 'not a proper place' for him to do so. The protesters finally tore up the letter after failing to present it to the director.

Wong Chai-wai, spokesman for the Alliance of Hong Kong Public Market Retailers, accused the government of depriving the tenants of all the benefits enjoyed by many stall operators over the years.

If the administration did not scrap the contract terms, the alliance would consider staging strikes in all public wet markets, he said.

A total of 104 public wet markets and cooked food centres are run by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department. The average rent paid by all 11,405 stalls is 60 per cent of the market level. An Audit Commission report last year found the government had lost HK$160 million on the public markets.

This year, the administration tried to sign a new contract with the tenants, which adjusted the markets' rent levels and operations. But the plan had to be put back to June next year because of strong opposition.

A Food and Environmental Hygiene Department spokeswoman said it was aware of the concern group's complaints and was liaising with its members to organise a consultation meeting.