The furniture manufacturing industry employs nearly 700 000 workers in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The furniture manufacturing industry employs nearly 700 000 workers in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. © Jamiecat *'s

Contrary to popular belief, migrant workers in the Southeast Asian furniture manufacturing industry are more productive and less accident prone than the local permanent workforce, according to new research.

The furniture manufacturing industry is one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in Southeast Asia, employing nearly 700 000 workers in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Working conditions and safety regulations are often poor, with high rates of occupational accidents within factories, which are considered as ‘3D’ environments (‘dirty’, ‘dangerous’ and ‘degenerative’).

Within the industry, numbers of contract migrant workers, who move from the surrounding rural areas to work in factories, are increasing in relation to the permanent workforce. Now, they account for over half of the total workforce in SE Asia’s wooden furniture industry.

This is causing concern, as many worry that migrant workers suffer more accidents in the workplace because of a lack of training, and that this adds to the ‘3D’ stigma and discourages local people from working in the industry. To investigate these claims, an international research team lead by Jegatheswaran Ratnasingam from Universiti Putra Malaysia compared accident records between contract workers and permanent staff employed by 240 furniture manufacturing companies across Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. They used questionnaires to gather information on workers’ attitudes to safety, educational backgrounds and workplace safety culture.

The study revealed that contract workers actually suffered fewer occupational accidents compared with their permanent counterparts. They were therefore more productive as their overall
period of absence after injury was significantly shorter.

The researchers attributed this to migratory workers’ positive attitudes towards work, saying the majority of participants were keen to stay safe and healthy in order to increase their income. On the other hand, domestic workers tended to pay less attention to their work, and suffered more accidents as a consequence.

The results offer new insights into the furniture industry, and may help to explain the recent surge in migratory contract workers, a trend which the authors say will almost certainly continue.

References:

Jegatheswaran Ratnasingam, Florin Ioras, Ioan Vasile Abrudan (2012) “An evaluation of occupational accidents in the wooden furniture industry – A regional study in South East AsiaSafety Science, Vol. 50, pages 1190–1195. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ssci.2011.12.035

For further information contact:

Dr Jegatheswaran Ratnasingam
Faculty of Forestry
Universiti Putra Malaysia
Email: jegaratnasingam@yahoo.com