Fabric vendors stage protest at government office over relocation fee row

The 38-year-old Yen Chow Street market will be vacated by Lunar New Year, but compensation eligibility and higher costs draw ire of traders

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 6:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 October, 2016, 6:40pm

A protest against the government’s compensation offer for unlicensed fabric vendors at a 38-year-old market in Sham Shui Po to relocate turned into a stand-off between hawkers and police on Monday morning.

The confrontation involved the relocation of the Yen Chow Street fabric market to the Tung Chau Street Temporary Market by Lunar New Year next year.

Last month, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department offered unlicensed vendors compensation comprising a one-off fee of HK$60,000 to move, or a HK$15,000 fee and priority bidding for stalls at the new location plus a 20 per cent discounts on rent.

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But business operators were unsatisfied with the deal as 17 out of 50 unlicensed vendors at the market did not qualify for the compensation.

More than 100 vendors and supporters marched from the market to the department’s office in Sham Shui Po on Monday.

Ho Ying-hoi, chairman of Yen Chow Street Hawker Bazaar Concern Group, said: “We should be recognised as a collective whole. We refuse to be divided”.

He added that 29 unlicensed vendors, who had qualified for compensation, had rejected the offer in a show of solidarity for those who were disqualified.

The protesters were finally granted a meeting with Lai Kah-kit, the department’s district environmental hygiene superintendent, after a hostile hour-long stand-off with police and government officials.

Ho said their meeting with the department was “completely unfruitful”.

“The department did not promise to recognise the other 17 vendors, nor did it propose a better deal for us,” he said, adding the concern group requested a direct dialogue with Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man.

Lai said the 17 vendors were disqualified because they failed to prove that they were “independent businesses”.

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“Many businesses are owned by two spouses. We can only recognise one,” Lai added.

He also said the government will stick to their original proposal.

“Vendors have until the 12th of this month to take up the offer,” Lai said. “We are hoping to clear the fabric market before the Lunar New Year.”

He did not specify what the department would do if the vendors refused to leave.

Lai said given that licensed vendors were offered a compensation of HK$120,000 for moving, the fact that 33 out of the 50 unlicensed vendors were ruled eligible for up to half that amount is already “a special arrangement”.

He added that four unlicensed vendors, who were eligible for compensation, were considering accepting the deal and moving.

According to the concern group, vendors are only paying about HK$4,000 per year for rent. But at the new location, they will have to pay a monthly rent ranging from HK$2,200 to HK$4,960.

Ho said:“Our cost will be raised by more than 12 times, driving us out of business.”

The Tung Chau Street Temporary Market will begin renovation this month.