Hawkers call for the right to sell food

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 September, 2011, 12:00am


Food vendors on an estate in Tung Chung who are tired of harassment by hawker control officers are hoping the government will give them licences and a designated area for running their businesses.

'We don't want to run any more. We are willing to be legitimate, have a fixed location, a licence and be regulated,' said a hawker who gave his name only as Lam, who has been selling cooked food on Yat Tung Estate for a decade.

Many hawkers say they would not mind paying rent and complying with food and hygiene laws, as long as they could 'earn a living without fear', Lam said.

The hawkers say they fill a need for late-night meals as an alternative to convenience-store junk food for late-shift workers on their way home from the nearby airport.

According to a poll this year by district councillor Bill Tang Ka-piu, more than 90 per cent of 150 residents surveyed said they supported the hawkers.

'It's vastly popular in Taiwan and in Europe and other countries, so why not Hong Kong,' Tang said.

Despite the long history of hawkers selling street snacks across the city, the government refuses to issue them with licences, citing hygiene, food safety and possible obstruction of public space as concerns.

However, the Yat Tung Estate hawkers say their community is a unique case. Many of the estate's 40,000 residents work at the airport, in security, cleaning and transport. They often return home after 11pm to a 'ghost town'.

The estate is a 10-minute bus ride from Tung Chung MTR station. It has only one shopping mall, a supermarket and no public market.

Most shops close before 10.30pm in compliance with regulations set by the mall's owner, The Link Reit.

Besides providing cheap late-night meals and a place for locals to congregate, the trade earns a living for many hawkers without them having to rely on welfare in an area where jobs are scarce.

'Sometimes I'm too tired to cook after work, but there are no choices except for the 7-Eleven,' said one of the hawkers' customers.

Another resident, Lau Chin-pang, said: 'It is so odd to have a large housing estate with a big population and lots of people working late shifts become dead quiet at night. It's because we don't have anywhere else to go.'

Councillor Tang said there were a lot of potential areas for a night market, including a car park owned by The Link Reit, where the 1,900 spaces have been empty since 2001.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it did not have any plan to build a new market in Tung Chung.

The department said a range of factors - including 'the number and geographical distribution of fresh provisions retail outlets' and 'the viability of the markets in the long run, and good, prudent use of public resources' - would have to be considered before a market could be built in any area.

In the past 12 months, the department said, it had received 124 complaints about illegal hawking near Yat Tung Estate. Twenty-two people were arrested for illegal hawking, with 46 seizures of hawker's equipment and goods.