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LCQ9: Hawker licences

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Kwok-kin and a written reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr Ko Wing-man, in the Legislative Council today (June 26):


     This Council had approved a funding allocation of $230 million for launching a five-year assistance scheme (the Assistance Scheme) for the licensed hawkers (hawkers) operating in 43 fixed-pitch hawker areas (hawker areas). Those hawkers carrying out reconstruction of their stalls in-situ, moving their stalls to other pitch spaces or opting for voluntary surrender of their hawker licences will be granted a one-off ex-gratia payment, but the hawkers' assistants (the assistants) will not benefit from the Assistance Scheme. In addition, some hawkers have relayed to me that due to the redevelopment of the Kwun Tong town centre, the Mut Wah Street Temporary Hawker Bazaar (Mut Wah Street Bazaar) will be relocated to a new temporary hawker bazaar in October this year, affecting 80-odd stall operators. Although relocation has been arranged for the hawkers concerned, it has been learnt that some of them intend to close down the business, and their assistants will not benefit from the relocation project. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) given that in 2010, the authorities gave priority to the existing registered assistants with experience in the hawking trade to select 70 per cent of the vacant fixed hawker pitches, of the number of registered assistants who selected the hawker pitches in the end; of the current number of assistants registered with the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department;

(b) whether it has estimated the number of hawker licences to be surrendered under the Assistance Scheme; as the authorities had indicated at a committee meeting of this Council that they would consider re-issuing the surrendered hawker licences for application by interested parties, when the authorities will make the relevant decision; whether the authorities will make reference to the approach mentioned in (a) to give priority to the registered assistants in applying for vacant fixed hawker pitches; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(c) given that when starting off the buyout package for the live poultry trade in 2008, the authorities had, apart from providing grants to live poultry retailers who voluntarily surrendered their licences, provided one-off grants to the affected local live poultry workers as well, whether the authorities will make reference to that approach and provide grants to the registered assistants affected by the hawkers' surrendering of licences; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; whether the authorities will consider implementing other measures to help those registered assistants who are affected; and

(d) given that the Mut Wah Street Bazaar is not one of the 43 hawker areas under the Assistance Scheme, and the affected hawkers cannot obtain the ex-gratia payment of $120,000 even if they surrender their licences, whether the authorities will consider extending the coverage of the Assistance Scheme to cover other hawkers who are affected by urban redevelopment projects and voluntarily surrender their licences; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     The Kwun Tong Town Centre redevelopment project of the Urban Renewal Authority (URA) covers the Mut Wah Street Temporary Hawker Bazaar and the Hip Wo Street Hawker Bazaar in Kwun Tong.  The URA is now constructing a two-storey transitional hawker bazaar at the original site of the Kwun Tong Government Offices Building to provide fixed hawker pitches for the purpose of accommodating the licensed stalls in the two hawker bazaars named above whilst actions are being taken to redevelop the on-street licensed hawker stalls in the district.  Apart from providing stalls with roller shutters facilities at the transitional hawker bazaar, the URA will also provide relocation subsidies to licensed hawkers affected by the relocation. Upon the relocation of licensed hawkers to the transitional hawker bazaar, their registered assistants may continue to assist in the business there. Subject to the support of the Kwun Tong District Council, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) may exercise discretion to allocate vacant stalls remaining in the transitional hawker bazaar to those registered assistants of hawkers originally operating in the two hawker bazaars if they are interested in applying for the hawker stalls.

     My reply to the various parts of the question is as follows:

(a) According to records, there are currently around 5 300 registered assistants in the hawking trade in Hong Kong.  Following the hawker licensing policy review in 2008-09, the Administration had in 2010 given priority to applicants who were registered assistants allowing them to apply for 70 per cent of the vacant fixed-pitch hawker stalls that were suitable for re-issue of licences. The selection was decided by ballot. Of the 218 licences issued, 95 were issued to registered assistants.

(b) The Government has not made any projection for the number of fixed-pitch hawker licences that may be voluntarily surrendered under the Assistance Scheme for Hawkers in Fixed-pitch Hawker Areas (Assistance Scheme). That said, for the purpose of drawing up the projected expenditure of the Assistance Scheme as set out in the paper submitted to the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council for funding approval, we have cited an expenditure level that is projected on the basis of the crude assumption that 20 per cent of eligible hawkers will opt for surrender of licences.

     At the meetings of the Panel on Food Safety and Environmental Hygiene and the Finance Committee of the Legislative Council held in February and March this year respectively, some Members suggested that if the voluntary licence surrender arrangement received overwhelming response, resulting in a large number of vacant stalls in an individual hawker area which far exceeded the number of stalls to be relocated, hence affecting its sustainability, the Administration should consider re-issuing new hawker licences to fill the vacant stalls. The Government has noted the suggestion and will re-visit it after the Assistance Scheme has been implemented for a period of time. The circumstances of each hawker area, including the business environment, fire safety and environmental hygiene considerations, and the views of the District Councils and local residents will be duly taken into account. If the suggestion is accepted at the end of the day, the Government will also make reference to past experience and the views of stakeholders when deciding how to re-issue new hawker licences.

(c) The five-year Assistance Scheme aims to provide financial assistance to hawkers in the 43 hawkers areas for stall reconstruction and relocation in order to expedite the work of reducing fire risks. Besides, an ex-gratia payment (EGP) is offered under the Assistance Scheme for voluntary surrender of hawker licences to speed up the release of pitches and hence facilitate the relocation of stalls which pose higher fire risks. The arrangement of voluntary surrender of hawker licences under the Assistance Scheme is consistent with those under previous voluntary surrender schemes for hawker licences.  The Government will offer an EGP to eligible licence holders as an assistance for their retirement or transition to other trades.

     Some licence holders may employ one or more assistants to help them operate their hawking business. The FEHD's role has been to register such stall assistants for law enforcement purpose.

     The EGP of $120,000 offered to licence holders under the voluntary surrender of hawker licences arrangement of the Assistance Scheme is well above the amount granted under similar voluntary surrender schemes in the past. For licence holders who have decided to surrender their hawker licences, it is incumbent upon them to settle their relationship with their assistants themselves.

(d) Currently, some hawker stalls are close to the staircase discharge points of adjacent buildings. In the event of a fire at the stalls, flames, dense smoke and hot fumes may well block the discharge points of buildings, creating the chimney effect and obstructing the means of escape. To reduce fire risks posed by on-street hawking activities in the hawker areas, the Government considers it necessary to improve the fire safety and design of hawker stalls, and to relocate them away from staircase discharge points of buildings, access for fire appliance or locations that may block the operation of aerial ladders. The Assistance Scheme aims to provide financial assistance to hawkers in the hawker areas for stall reconstruction and relocation in order to expedite the work in reducing fire risks. As for other hawkers not in the hawker areas, including those operating in hawker bazaars, wall stalls and newspaper stalls etc., they are scattered over different off-street locations or different spots on street. These stalls are not located in densely-populated districts or do not congregate on street. In either case, the fire risks posed to adjacent buildings are relatively low. They are therefore not covered in the Assistance Scheme.

Ends/Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Issued at HKT 15:33


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