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Covid-19: Some F&B workers think of leaving industry, hawkers say they have to trudge on

SINGAPORE — The long-drawn pandemic as well as the repeated closing and reopening of indoor dining is taking the wind out of some workers in the food services industry.

Changes to dining regulations to control the spread of Covid-19 here have led to many start-stops for businesses and affected workers in the process.

Changes to dining regulations to control the spread of Covid-19 here have led to many start-stops for businesses and affected workers in the process.

  • Tired of impact from off-and-on dining ban, some F&B workers are mulling over a switch to other industries
  • Others accept the changing rules are for safety reasons and are riding through the crisis
  • Hawkers expect dining ban to hit even harder this round due to people staying home more
  • One is finding new ways to make some money without relying on delivery firms

 

SINGAPORE — The long-drawn pandemic as well as the repeated closing and reopening of indoor dining is taking the wind out of some workers in the food services industry.

So much so that there are food-and-beverage (F&B) workers who are longing for greener pastures and considering leaving their jobs in search of stabler ones in other industries. 

Ms Abby Yap, a supervisor at Seorae Korean Charcoal BBQ restaurant in Nex mall in Serangoon, looked dejected and tired when she was being interviewed about coping with the third round of a dining ban

The first round was during a partial lockdown in April and May last year and the second was during the recent heightened alert phase in May and June.

The 38-year-old who has been working in the restaurant for nearly two years said: “I am scared that I will lose my job if the regulations keep changing… I do have thoughts of moving to another industry that is more stable, but I am also not sure whether I should act on my thoughts now.” 

With stricter limits imposed for higher-risk activities such as dining and socialising starting from Thursday (July 22), TODAY interviewed eight people working in F&B outlets at Tampines Mall and Nex mall. 

At four food centres, 10 hawkers said that they are not looking forward to Thursday because they are expecting yet another round of lacklustre sales.  

Moreover, some are worried that more people will not head out to buy cooked food this time because of the more virulent coronavirus strains circulating, as well as clusters forming at a number of hawker centres themselves.

On Tuesday, the Government’s Covid-19 task force announced at a press conference that infection control measures would go back to those during a heightened alert phase from May 16 to June 13.

This means that people will not be allowed to eat out at F&B places including hawker centres and coffee shops from July 22 to Aug 18, except to do takeaways or order deliveries.

NO SENSE OF SECURITY

Ms Yap from Seorae Korean Charcoal BBQ, a Malaysian who has been living in Singapore for the past four years with her husband, said that she has an 18-year-old son back home in Malaysia whom she has to financially support.

Although she is confident that things will improve for the F&B sector in the future, she is uncertain about the level of job security and income stability for herself at the moment.

Her take was that the changes to dining regulations to control the spread of Covid-19 here have led to many start-stops for businesses and affected workers in the process. 

Another full-time worker at Honguo, a Chinese restaurant at Nex, also told TODAY that she was open to exploring other job opportunities, considering the instability of working in the F&B industry during the pandemic. 

Ms Vivian Choong, 27, a management trainee, said that though it is very tiring to adapt to the constantly changing rules, they are necessary since cases are on the rise every day and workers’ safety should not be compromised. 

Ms Choong added that when customers cannot dine in, workers at the restaurant have to take unpaid leave and this translates into lesser pay for them.

On its part, the restaurant has assured her on the issue of job security, but when asked if she has thought about switching lines, she said: “I have thought of it before but I will monitor the situation closely for the next few months first.” 

Ms Idora Zulkiffli, 20, a part-time sales assistant at Butter Studio in Tampines Mall, said that although the confectionery shop offers only a takeaway service, when human traffic is lower with few people dining at the mall, its business also suffers.

“As workers, we are driven by sales and it is demoralising and frustrating when there are no customers. Our employers expect performance from us even during periods of heightened alert. It is still stressful for us,” she said.

A quiet Tampines Mall during the heightened alert phase earlier in May 2021. Photo: Ng Jun Sen/TODAY

Other F&B workers interviewed said that part-timers have it worse than full-time ones or it hurts when staff members are told to cut back on work hours.

Ms Chee Qin Ling, 24, a supervisor at Aburi-En, a Japanese restaurant at Nex, said that part-timers would be called back for work only when needed, which might not be the case for the next one month. 

Ms Wani Shanwani, 27, who works at Pizza Hut in Nex, said that her staff members would experience a drop in hourly pay.

“As a manager, I am not affected but my staff are very affected because with dine-in suspensions, manpower is cut and so, their hours are also shortened, which leads to lesser pay for them.” 

However, Ms Wani said that the suspension is still a “better and safer” option for the workers especially after some at other Pizza Hut outlets were infected earlier this year. 

Mr Richard Lee, 73, a part-time employee at Jollibee fast-food restaurant in Nex, agreed: “Safety comes first. It is important to play our part and keep ourselves and our customers safe”.

Mr Lee, who is the branch’s “safe control ambassador”, added that these restrictions “cannot be helped” and they are not unique to Singapore. 

‘WHAT WILL I EAT?’ 

At food centres, several hawkers told TODAY that they are not thrilled with the latest round of restrictions and foresee that their earnings will be severely hit.

Yet, they have no choice but to soldier on, they said.

Veteran hawker Lok Suat Er, 70, who runs the Hock Sin Kee stall at Alexandra Food Centre, said that she does not even expect to make S$100 a day from selling stir-fried food.

For one thing, the hawker centre is just a bit more than 2km away from Bukit Merah View Market and Hawker Centre, an active Covid-19 cluster, so she believes that some patrons are avoiding Alexandra Food Centre as well.

Secondly, most of her regular customers are older residents in the area and with the more virulent Delta strain around, they have been staying home to keep themselves safe. 

Still, she is not throwing in the towel. “What am I going to eat if I (close shop)? I don’t really have a choice,” she said in Mandarin, adding that offering delivery services via GrabFood, Foodpanda and Deliveroo is out of the question due to the high commission rates.

Mrs Nur Syakirah Abdul Wahid, 38, who runs the Indonesian and Malay cuisine stall Warung Parsanga at Amoy Street Food Centre, said that many hawkers like her rely on the patronage of office workers.

With a majority of them working from home, she said that “no one from the outskirts of Singapore” will make the trip to the Central Business District.

Despite having survived two rounds of dining bans, Mrs Syakirah fears that this one might be even worse due to the high number of Covid-19 cases, particularly those at hawker centres and markets, which will keep customers away.  

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that Covid-19 cases have been detected in at least 35 markets and food centres linked to the expanding Jurong Fishery Port cluster. 

A list of the affected markets released by MOH showed that most of the places, which include Amoy Street Food Centre, have had fewer than three cases. 

To stay afloat during this period, Mrs Syakirah said that she will forgo using the major food delivery firms and offer daily catered food to some of her neighbours after cooking it at her stall — a strategy that got her through the previous dining ban in May and June.

“I don’t earn much from it, but it’s enough to get me by,” she said.

A scene at Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre during the heightened alert phase earlier in May 2021. Photo: Raj Nadarajan/TODAY

Mr Alan Tan, a cook in his 50s at Soon Soon Carrot Cake in Marsiling Mall Hawker Centre, said that even though he is in the heartlands, his previous experience has shown that relying on takeaway sales is still very unpredictable.

“Some days you have many customers, other times, there’s barely anyone... People come and go quickly because they are so scared of getting the virus,” he said in Mandarin.  

Some hawkers are choosing to be more sanguine in their outlook. 

Madam Joline Hoon who, with her husband, took over the popular Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake stall from her mother, said that she appreciates the rental waivers given by the National Environment Agency, which manages the hawker centre, among other financial aids. 

The 63-year-old said that the waivers have taken a load off their shoulders and hopes this scheme will continue until the Covid-19 situation stabilises. 

Related topics

Covid-19 coronavirus business Jobs dining F&B

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