MUAR, Malaysia - The government has given approval for the recruitment of 16,000 foreign workers by furniture factories in Muar and Batu Pahat to meet the shortage of labour.
International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed said this would help produce more furniture for the world market and spur greater economic growth.
He said the potential of the furniture industry was robust, adding that Malaysia was currently exporting RM7 billion (S$2.8 billion) worth of furnitures.
Mustapa said the industry was one of Muar's economic lifelines and accounted for about 45 per cent of the country's furniture exports.
"The shortage of labour has a significant impact on the country's furniture production and exports. It has affected some factories which have been forced to reject foreign orders," he said after attending a meet-the-people session at Chung Hwa High School here on Wednesday night.
The function, organised by the Muar Furniture Association (MFA), drew more than 1,000 people.
Also present were Youth and Sports Deputy Minister and Muar member of parliament Datuk Razali Ibrahim; district officer Amran Abdul Rahman, prominent community leaders and furniture manufacturers from across the country.
Mustapa said furniture factories in Selangor had also applied for foreign workers, and that he would make a study of their request.
"My ministry and I will give our full attention to solve whatever problems facing furniture manufacturers to enable them to boost maximum production and to further stabilise the country's economy."
Johor Furniture Association president Bo Eng Chee said the steps taken by Mustapa were timely as they would rejuvenate the industry which had been facing a shortage of labour
He said the approval for the recruitment of foreign workers was a great relief to furniture producers especially those in Muar and Batu Pahat.
Bo, who is also MFA president, said Muar furniture factories could expect to get 10,000 foreign workers while the remaining 6,000 would be employed by factories in Batu Pahat.
"We need a sustainable supply of foreign workers to avoid interruptions in plant operations and adverse effects on productivity."
He said Muar furniture manufacturers were deluged with orders in recent months after the supply of furniture from regional countries dwindled.