Several unions representing shipping workers from around the world have banded together to warn of a “global transport systems collapse” due to labor shortages and pandemic-related restrictions on trade — as already unprecedented delays are set to escalate heading into the busy holiday season.
In an open letter, the World Road Transport Organization, the International Air Transport Association, the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers’ Federation said their members have been “failed by governments and taken for granted by their officials” during the pandemic.
The failure to address key matters has led to “unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods,” the group of unions said Wednesday, adding that “the delays look set to worsen ahead of Christmas and continue into 2022.”
“Fragmented travel rules and restrictions” kept nearly half a million seafarers from leaving their ships, the group said, with some working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts.
“Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel, restrictions, and vaccine restrictions/requirements,” the letter continued.
“Additional and systemic stopping at road borders has meant truck drivers have been forced to wait, sometimes weeks, before being able to complete their journeys and return home.”
The group — whose collective industries account for more than $20 trillion of world trade annually — called on governments and the United Nations to “remove restrictions hampering the free movement of transport workers, and guarantee and facilitate their free and safe movement.”
They also urged the World Health Organization to work with governments to roll out a “globally harmonized, digital” vaccination certificate so that workers can cross international borders with ease.
“The impact of nearly two years’ worth of strain, placed particularly upon maritime and road transport workers, but also impacting aircrews, is now being seen. Their continued mistreatment is adding pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain,” the letter goes on.
“It is of great concern that we are also seeing shortages of workers and expect more to leave our industries as a result of the poor treatment they have faced during the pandemic, putting the supply chain under greater threat.”
The global shipping industry has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, as demand for shipped goods has surged as shoppers avoided brick-and-mortar retail.
Border restrictions and outbreaks at various facilities have also hampered the industry’s ability to move product, leading to shortages that are hitting corporate earnings in the US and elsewhere.
In their open letter Wednesday, the group requested a meeting with the WHO and the International Labor Organization.
“In view of the vital role that transport workers have played during the pandemic and continue to play during the ongoing supply chain crisis, we request, as a matter of urgency, a meeting with WHO and the ILO at the highest level to identify solutions before global transport systems collapse,” the unions wrote.