Airline workers, seafarers, and truck drivers suffered travel restrictions, quarantines, and complex coronavirus testing and vaccination requirements to keep strained supply chains moving during the outbreak. However, several of them are now reaching the verge of their collapse, posing yet another threat to the critically tousled network of ports, trucking firms, and container vessels that move goods across the world.
On Wednesday, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other industry groups warned in an open letter to the heads of state attending the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) that the global transport system may collapse if worldwide governments don’t restore freedom of movement to transport workers and give them priority to receive vaccination shots recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO).
PRESS RELEASE: Global transport chiefs have come together to urge the UN and heads of government to end the humanitarian crisis for supply chain workers. Read more here: https://t.co/70GMQLOgn8 #travelban #seafarersarekeyworkers #covid19 #SupplyChain pic.twitter.com/pjv5x2bjR8
— International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) (@shippingics) September 29, 2021
The Open Letter Represents 65 Million Transport Workers Globally
The groups wrote that international supply chains are starting to buckle as the last two years’ worth of stress on transport workers takes their toll. The International Road Transport Union (IRU), the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) also signed the letter. Together they represent sixty-five million transport workers across the world.
It added that all transport sectors are also experiencing a shortage of workers and expect further resignations due to the poor treatment millions of workers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, putting the global supply chain under significant threat. Secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping, Guy Platten, said that shortages of workforces might worsen towards the year-end because seafarers may not want to sign new agreements and risk not making it home for Christmas given port closures and continuous changes to travel restrictions.
Global Shaky Supply Chains
The above all situation will heap pressure on strained supply chains and may worsen present challenges with the fuel and food supply in the United Kingdom. ITF secretary-general Stephen Cotton said that the global supply chain is too breakable and mostly depends on a seafarer from the Philippines as it also does on truck drivers to deliver goods. Further, he added that the time has come for heads of the state to respond to the needs of these workers.
Early in the coronavirus outbreak, several seafarers settled to extend their agreements by many months to keep supplies of medicine, fuel, food, and consumer goods flowing across the globe. However, the aircraft’s border closure instructions and global grounding had made it nearly impossible to move and swap workforces from one part of the world to another. As a result, according to the ICS, at the peak of the pandemic in 2020, four hundred thousand seafarers were unable to leave their ships for routine shifts of changeover, some workers working for as long as one and a half years beyond the end of their initial agreements.
Repetitive Testing, Several Vaccinations
Crew changes remain a major challenge across the world, while these numbers now improved. As a result of the most contagious delta variant of coronavirus, the governments reimposed some travel restrictions, and transport workers continue to face numerous testing and vaccine requirements just to do their jobs. According to Platten, varying requirements reveal that some seafarer workers received vaccination many times because some nations only approved certain vaccines at the national level.
He told CNN Business that he knows one seafarer who received six shots of vaccine, or in other words, three two-dose vaccines of different companies. He called it an absolute nightmare and asked why the world does not have some sort of global vaccination standard. At the same time, the inequitable distribution of coronavirus vaccine globally means that just around twenty-five to thirty percent of seafarers, several of them are from the Philippines and India, received full vaccination.
COVID-19 testing is also a global challenge. Germany individually introduced mandatory PCR testing in February with no immunity for truck drivers, leading neighboring nations such as Italy to impose similar restrictions to avoid having several truck drivers stuck in their own territory. These actions affected a large number of drivers, specifically on the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy, compelling them to queue for several years in sub-zero temperatures with no medical facilities or enough food supply.
The EU Digital COVID Certificate
Since then, the European Union Digital COVID-19 Certificate relaxed some of the pressure and difficulties, but blockages remain. IRU secretary-general, Umberto de Pretto, said that drivers faced a large number of border issues and obstructions through the COVID outbreak. Businesses, the citizens, and truck drivers that rely on the goods they move pay a heavy price for unwise virus restrictions that don’t exempt transport staff.
The chief officer, Marchal, and her team had to do ten coronavirus tests in 7 days before they were permitted to enter the dockyard in Singapore for repairs last month. However, the COVID-19 outbreak at the port delayed the maintenance by one week, and the vessel isn’t likely to leave before mid of the next month. Meanwhile, the crew members remain on board the ship.
Essential quarantines of workers when debarking and on arrival in their home nations can mean that seafarers and pilots spend one month of their break time stuck in the hotel room before they are able to meet their family members. The captain of Seaspan Amazon (a container ship), Shaailesh Sukte, said that seafarers still have not been provided with the priority of the frontline workforce. Further, he told CNN Business that we need to ease the global travel restrictions if we want the world to keep moving.