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Groups seek end to restrictions on transport workers to avert supply chain chaos

  • Global road, air and sea organizations and unions appealed to governments to remove restrictions on the free movement of transport workers
  • The groups sought priority vaccination for transport workers and a standard process for demonstrating health credentials
  • Keeping global trade flowing during the pandemic has taken a toll on workers, the groups said
  • Unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods including electronics, food, fuel and medical supplies have been noted
  • Delays look set to worsen ahead of Christmas and continue into 2022

Global road, air and sea organizations and unions have called on governments to end a “global humanitarian and supply chain crisis” by lifting restrictions on the free movement of transport workers.

“We ask heads of government to urgently take the leadership that is required to bring an end to the fragmented travel rules and restrictions that have severely impacted the global supply chain and put at risk the health and wellbeing of our international transport workforce,” according to a joint open letter dated September 29 signed by the International Road Transport Union (IRU), International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).

The letter was published during the week of the UN General Assembly’s General Debate in New York.

The groups called for “urgent leadership to increase global vaccine supply… to expedite the recovery of our industries” and to give priority to transport workers in receiving World Health Organization (WHO)-recognized vaccines.

They also sought the creation of a standard process for demonstrating health credentials and for the WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO) to raise the aforementioned issues at the UN General Assembly and with national governments.

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said they have called “loudly and clearly” on governments to ensure the free movement of transport workers and to end travel bans and other restrictions.

“Heads of government have failed to listen, to end the blame-shifting within and between governments and take the decisive and coordinated action needed to resolve this crisis,” the groups said.

They noted transport workers have continued to keep global trade flowing throughout the pandemic, but that this has taken a human toll.

At the peak of the crew change crisis, they cited 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, some working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts. Flights have been restricted and aviation workers faced the inconsistency of border, travel, restrictions, and vaccine requirements.

Additional, systemic and unpredictable controls at road borders have meant truck drivers have been forced to wait, sometimes in their thousands and for weeks in unsanitary situations without proper facilities, before being able to complete their journeys and return home.

Moreover, the groups noted global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years’ worth of strain on transport workers take their toll.

“We are witnessing unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods including electronics, food, fuel and medical supplies. Consumer demand is rising and the delays look set to worsen ahead of Christmas and continue into 2022,” they said.

All transport sectors are also seeing a shortage of workers, with more workers expected to leave as a result of poor treatment during the pandemic, “putting the supply chain under greater threat.”

The groups claimed “transport ministries have not been able to work with health ministries to improve the way transport workers are being treated by travel restrictions.”

They added the “humanitarian and supply chain crisis will remain indefinitely, causing more hardship” unless change is enacted by heads of government.

The transport bodies represent more than $20 trillion of world trade annually, 65 million global transport workers, more than 3.5 million road freight and airline companies, and more than 80% of the world merchant shipping fleet.

ILO director-general Guy Ryder said issues of transport workers were “raised last year at the UN General Assembly by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and it will be essential that delegates at this year’s gathering in New York are aware of their responsibilities. It is of great importance that the heads of organizations representing millions of transport workers globally have asked governments to take urgent action and end restrictions that are putting incredible strain on workers, their families and the global supply chain. It is a call that can no longer be ignored.”

For his part, ICS secretary general Guy Platten said: “Two of the themes for this year’s General Assembly are human rights and resilience. Given transport workers have shown indescribable levels of resilience in the face of immense hardship, we call on the UN and heads of state to finally take the decisive and coordinated action to resolve this crisis.”

IATA director general Willie Walsh cited the resilience of aviation workers in the past 18 months “in keeping world trade lanes open. It’s been made unnecessarily challenging with uncoordinated, unharmonized and sometimes conflicting COVID-19 measures implemented by governments. This is not sustainable, particularly as demand grows in the recovery. It’s time for WHO and ILO to bring states together to agree on a globally harmonized set of crew measures that will facilitate efficient global connectivity.”

The world’s supply chains have moved because of transport workers, pointed out ITF secretary general Stephen Cotton, “despite the neglect of world leaders. They have worked through border closures, an inability to return home, a lack of access to healthcare, restrictive quarantine requirements and the complete uncertainty borne from government ineptitude. Frankly, they’ve had enough. The time has come for heads of government to respond to these workers’ needs, if not they will be responsible for the collapse of supply chains, and the unnecessary deaths and suffering of workers and citizens caught in the crisis. That blood and that chaos will be on their hands.”

IRU secretary general Umberto de Pretto described truck drivers as having “worked tirelessly through the pandemic to keep goods moving, despite restrictions at borders often being pointless, uncoordinated and even dangerous to drivers’ health. These have made chronic driver shortages even worse. Drivers are essential workers: governments need to act and allow them to do their vital job.”


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