Workers Keeping Global Supply Chains Moving Warn of ‘System Collapse’


In an open letter on Wednesday to heads of state participating in the United Nations General Assembly, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other industry groups have warned of a “collapse of the global transport system” if governments do not restore freedom of movement transport workers and prioritize them to receive vaccines recognized by the World Health Organization.

“Global supply chains are starting to crumble as two years of pressure on transport workers take their toll,” the groups wrote. The letter was also signed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Road Transport Union (IRU) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). Together, they represent 65 million transport workers around the world.

“All transport sectors are also experiencing a shortage of workers and expect more people to leave due to the mistreatment millions of people have faced during the pandemic, putting the supply chain under greater strain. threat, ”he added.

Guy Platten, secretary general of ICS, said worker shortages are expected to worsen towards the end of the year as sailors may be unwilling to commit to new contracts and risk not returning home. them for Christmas given port closures and constantly changing travel restrictions. .

Fragile supply chains

This will increase pressure on stretched supply chains and could, for example, exacerbate the UK’s current food and fuel supply problems.

“The global supply chain is very fragile and depends as much on a sailor [from the Philippines] just like it does on a truck driver to deliver goods, ”added Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary. “The time has come for government leaders to respond to the needs of these workers.

When Karynn Marchal and his crew learned that they would not be allowed to disembark at the mooring in Hokkaido, Japan, it was a blow to morale.

“None of us knew how long this would last,” the 28-year-old chief officer of a car-carrying ship told CNN Business.

That was over 18 months ago. Marchal – and hundreds of thousands of sailors like her – have not been allowed to go ashore since.

After weeks on board a ship, a few hours ashore provide a much needed respite. But seafarers can only leave a ship to travel elsewhere, usually to return home. Marchal considers herself “one of the lucky ones” because she was at least able to return to the United States.

“There are people who have been stuck at sea for over a year,” she said.

Chief Officer Karynn Marchal pictured aboard his ship in January 2021 in the Panama Canal.

At the start of the pandemic, many sailors agreed to extend their contracts for several months to maintain the supply of food, fuel, medicine and other consumer goods around the world. The immobilization of planes and the closing of borders made it almost impossible to move workers from one part of the world to another and to exchange crews.

At the height of the crisis in 2020, 400,000 sailors were unable to leave their ships for routine changes, some working for up to 18 months beyond the end of their initial contracts, according to the ICS.

Multiple vaccinations, repeated tests

While these numbers have improved, crew changes remain a major challenge. Some travel restrictions have been reimposed due to the Delta coronavirus variant, and transport workers continue to face a myriad of vaccine and testing requirements just to do their jobs. Often these are imposed at all times, Platten said.

Inconsistent requirements mean some sailors have been vaccinated multiple times as some countries have only approved certain vaccines, according to Platten.

He knows of at least one sailor who has received six doses of vaccine or three two-dose regimens. “It’s an absolute nightmare. I don’t understand why we don’t have some sort of global standard,” he told CNN Business.

Meanwhile, the uneven distribution of vaccines around the world means that only 25 to 30 percent of seafarers, many of whom are from India and the Philippines, are fully vaccinated, according to Platten.

Trucks parked on the runway at Manston Airport in England wait to cross the Channel on December 22, 2020.

Testing for the coronavirus is also a challenge. In February, Germany unilaterally introduced mandatory PCR testing without exemption for truck drivers, leading neighboring countries, including Italy, to impose similar restrictions to prevent thousands of drivers from being stranded on their own. territory.

The measures have affected thousands of truck drivers, especially on the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria, forcing them to queue for days in sub-zero temperatures without food or medical facilities. The EU’s Covid digital certificate has since eased some of the pressure, but bottlenecks remain.

“Drivers have faced hundreds of border issues and blockages during the pandemic,” said Umberto de Pretto, IRU General Secretary. “Truck drivers, as well as the citizens and businesses that depend on the goods they transport, pay a heavy price for ill-advised Covid restrictions that do not exempt transport workers,” he added.

Truck drivers line up to show documentation of the Brenner Pass testing on February 16.

Marchal, the chief officer, and his crew had to complete 10 Covid tests in seven days before being allowed into the Singapore shipyard for repairs last month. Maintenance has been delayed for a week following a coronavirus outbreak in the port and the ship is not expected to leave until mid-October. In the meantime, the crew must remain on board the ship.

Mandatory quarantines on disembarkation and arrival in their home country can mean pilots and sailors spend a month of their vacation stranded in a hotel room before they can see their families.

Seafarers “run the shipping industry,” but they have not been given the priority of frontline workers, said Shaailesh Sukte, the captain of Seaspan Amazon, a container ship. “If you want the world [keep] moving, you need to relax travel restrictions, ”he told CNN Business.


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