Global supply chains are in crisis because of blocks on world trade following the coronavirus pandemic, seafarers, truckers and airline workers say.
Key supply chain workers claim they are reaching breaking point after enduring months of quarantine, travel restrictions and a Covid-19 vaccination programme.
There is even a risk of a ‘global transport system collapse’ if governments do not restore freedom of movement, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other industry groups have now warned.
In an open letter to heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly, the groups called for transport workers to be given priority to receive vaccines recognised by the World Health Organisation.
Chief officer of a car-carrying ship, Karyn Marchal (pictured), 28, and her crew, were told they couldn’t go ashore after docking in Hokkaido, Japan, because of the pandemic
Ms Marchal (pictured) said there have been people stuck at sea for more than a year because rules dictate workers can only have shore leave if they’re travelling elsewhere
‘Global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years’ worth of strain on transport workers take their toll,’ the letter read.
It was signed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Road Transport Union (IRU) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – which together represent 65 million transport workers around the world.
It said global transport sectors were seeing a shortage of workers and expected more to leave because of poor treatment during the pandemic.
Last Christmas thousands of drivers from countries including Hungary, Slovenia and Romania spent Christmas stuck in the UK after France closed its border with Britain following the emergence of the new highly infectious strain of coronavirus.
Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, said seafarers were unlikely to commit to new contracts in case there is a repeat of last year’s port chaos this December, meaning supply problems could soon worsen.
Global transport sectors were seeing a shortage of workers and expected more to leave because of poor treatment during the pandemic (file image)
Cargo ships filled with containers dock at the Port of Los Angeles on September 28
Stephen Cotton, ITF secretary general, said heads of government needed to act to prevent further hits to morale, adding that the global supply chain was ‘fragile’.
Chief officer of a car-carrying ship, Karyn Marchal, 28, and her crew, were told they couldn’t go ashore after docking in Hokkaido, Japan, because of the pandemic.
She said there have been people stuck at sea for more than a year because rules dictate workers can only have shore leave if they’re travelling elsewhere.
To help during the pandemic seafarers extended their contracts to keep goods flowing as planes were grounded and borders closed.
But their commitment has taken its toll, after 400,000 workers were unable to leave their ships for routine changeovers at the height of the pandemic in 2020.
Some were forced to stay on board for as long as 18 months beyond the end of their contracts, according to the ICS.
Mr Platten added that testing requirements and restrictions are often changed without notice and inconsistency meant some workers had to be vaccinated multiple times because different countries approved different jabs.
Lorry drivers queue on the M20 motorway to enter the Port of Dover in Kent last December
A driver checks his COVID-19 lateral flow test at the Port of Dover, Kent, where thousands were waiting to resume their journey across The Channel last December
A lorry driver, trapped waiting to be allowed back to France, was spotted hanging clothes and towels to dry on the front of his lorry on December 22
He said he knew at least one seafarer who had six doses in order to meet the requirements of various countries.
‘It’s an absolute nightmare. I can’t understand why we don’t have some sort of global standard,’ he told CNN Business.
And what’s worse, an unequal availability of vaccines globally means just 25 to 30 percent of seafarers are fully vaccinated, Mr Platten added.
Alongside vaccines, workers have the added challenge of ensuring they have completed adequate PCR tests.
In February, Germany introduced mandatory testing with no exemption for truck drivers. This then encouraged other countries to impose similar restrictions and stranded thousands of drivers who were not prepared for the change.
Alongside vaccines, workers have the challenge of ensuring they have completed adequate PCR tests. Pictured, boats sailing past the Shell refinery on Pulau Bukom off Singapore
HGV drivers, particularly on the Brenner Pass between Italy and Austria, then had to queue for days without food or medical help in order to complete the tests.
Umberto de Pretto, IRU secretary general, said ‘misguided Covid restrictions’ were to blame for problems in the supply chain.
Ms Marchal and her crew had to do 10 Covid tests in seven days before they could enter a shipyard in Singapore when their vessel needed repairs last month. This was then delayed by a week when there was a coronavirus outbreak at the port and they are not expected to leave before the middle of next month – with the crew trapped aboard in the meantime.
Meanwhile, a private equity-backed haulage firm specialising in chilled food deliveries to Asda and Sainsbury’s went bust last week, adding to concerns about gaps on shelves as Britain heads for a ‘winter of discontent’.
EVCL Chill was responsible for delivering 10,000 pallets of food and drink a day into the two retailers, who according to The Grocer have been in talks with administrator PwC for several weeks in a bid to safeguard a significant proportion of their chilled operations
EVCL Chill, a subsidiary of EV Cargo, filed for administration yesterday, adding to speculation that the two supermarkets will need to take-over the business to safeguard deliveries.
EVCL Chill, a subsidiary of EV Cargo, filed for administration, adding to speculation that the two supermarkets will need to take-over the business to safeguard deliveries.
The company had a number of major contracts for supermarkets and employed around 1,000 workers in warehousing and HGV driving roles.
It comes amid worry that Britain will be faced with severe food shortages this winter due to a lack of lorry drivers and an ongoing energy crisis.
Several of Britain’s biggest retailers on Friday warned ministers the government had 10 days to save Christmas from ‘significant disruption’ due to the lack of HGV drivers.
Trade union Unite blamed the development on venture capitalists they said had hived off the core operations of the business into a separate company, then put this company into administration leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab.