Choose Australia first, says AFA

The Australian Furnishing Association (AFA) has launched an unprecedented campaign to support jobs in the Australian furniture industry, in a bid by the industry to stave off up to 10,000 jobs at risk due to Covid-19.

An ongoing survey that commenced in July 2021 revealed the devastating impact of the pandemic on the sector.

Australian furniture factories were closed for many months by the pandemic and although th economy is predicted to rebound, manufacturers expect their sales to be down by an average of 25 to 30 per cent this year.

Around half also believe they may be forced to make redundancies of between 10 and 50 per cent of their workforce or go on to part-time working in the autumn. 

The AFA ‘Choose Australia First’ campaign aims to make people aware of the jobs at stake in the wake of Covid-19 and to encourage consumers to seek out Australian made goods. 

“These are unprecedented times and this is an unprecedented step by the whole of the Australian furniture industry, which is coming together for the first time to support jobs across both manufacturing and retail,” says AFA spokesperson, Joe Perri. 

“The home market is worth $14 billion a year and if you add in the whole of the furnishings sector along with retail, the industry supports some 500,000 jobs. And every extra $1 million spent on Australian furniture could support up to 50 manufacturing jobs in the sector.” 

Concerned by the near collapse of High Street retailing during the height of the pandemic lockdown, the AFA decided to launch its campaign to boost autumn sales of Australian made furniture. A snap poll carried out supports its belief that Australians would back Australian if they knew what was at stake. 

More than three-quarters (78 per cent) of those questioned said their buying decision would be influenced if they knew buying Australia would help safeguard 46,000 jobs in the country with women (83 per cent) more likely than men (71 per cent) to be swayed by that knowledge.

The effect of Covid-19 on the economy has had a significant impact on buying decisions. More than a third (34 per cent) said that they’d be more inclined to support buying Australian furniture than they were two years ago (before Covid).

Half those questioned (50 per cent) had bought furniture in past 12 months although nearly a quarter (24 per cent) didn’t know where it was made. Younger people are more likely to have bought all-Australian with a third of 18 to 34-year-olds (33 per cent) saying everything they had bought was made here. According to the AFA, 75 per cent of furniture bought in Australia is imported.

“Our cabinet making industry has virtually died out and we import nearly as much upholstery as we make,” says Perri. 

“Only in mattresses do we have a relatively healthy home market but even that’s crept up from just 21 per cent of imported sales 30 years ago to the current 75 per cent. Australian furniture manufacturing has dramatically declined over the past 50 years, mostly because of cheaper labour in other countries.

“Factories overseas don’t always meet Australia’s requirements for a minimum living wage, safe working conditions and product compliance standards. Choose Australia First is critical to the future of our industry which is why we are launching this campaign to raise awareness of the jobs at risk.

“We need to stop the rot and reverse the trends if we are to support jobs, increase the amount of products we make in this country and encourage investment in much needed skills for our young people,” he adds.