Double-blow for furniture makers

JOHOR BARU: Johor, the country’s largest furniture producer, is facing a shortage of workers in the industry, not only at the manufacturing line but also for supervisory and mid-level managerial roles.

Besides the dearth of foreign workers, another reason for the problem is that many prefer to work in Singapore due to the currency exchange rate.

“If someone earns S$1,000 (RM3,179) on the island republic, he or she will have more than RM3,000 to spend here,” said Federation of Johor Furniture Manufacturers and Traders Associations president Steve Ong Yeou Huan.

“We have tried increasing salaries, offering RM2,000 to RM3,000 to fresh graduates, but the take-up rate is very low,” he said.

He said this left the sector with a significant lack of workers.

“We hope locals will consider remaining or returning to Malaysia to contribute to the country’s economy as well as the development of the local furniture sector,” Ong added.

Johor accounts for about 70% of the country’s furniture production.

About 60% of its furniture is supplied to the United States, followed by European countries and other parts of the world.

He said global inflation had caused the market to slow down.

“There has been a slight dip in orders recently due to inflation and shrinking spending power.

“However, we believe things will bounce back in three to six months,” he added.

On foreign labour, Ong said some furniture firms had already applied for workers after the government allowed the intake of foreigners last month.

However, they are still waiting and the decision by Indonesia to stop sending workers for now is another major setback.

Asked whether high shipping costs was affecting the industry, Ong said the fees had recently gone down, compared with the past two years at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It used to cost about US$3,000 (RM13,302) to US$5,000 (RM22,170) to ship a container of furniture overseas before the pandemic.

“But at one point over the past couple of years, it was about US$20,000 (RM88,680) per container.

Recently, it fell to about US$12,000 (RM53,208).

“These charges are usually paid by the buyers, not by the manufacturers,” he added.

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