The workers who keep global supply chains moving are warning of a ‘system collapse’


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Sailors, truck drivers and airline employees have endured to maintain quarantines, travel restrictions and complex COVID-19 vaccination and testing requirements extended supply chain running during global pandemic.

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But many are now reaching their breaking point, which poses another threat. badly confused port network, container pot and trucking companies that move goods around the world.

in one open letter Wednesday for Heads of State Participating in the United Nations General Assembly, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other industry groups warned of a “collapse of the global transport system” if governments do not restore freedom of movement to transport workers and allow them to receive world-recognized vaccines. prioritize doing. health organization.


“Global supply chains are beginning to shrink as transportation workers are under two years of pressure,” the groups wrote. The letter has also been 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 transportation workers globally.

“All transport sectors are also seeing labor shortages, and poor treatment is expected to result in millions putting the supply chain at greater risk during the pandemic,” it added.

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ICS Secretary General Guy Platten said labor shortages were likely to worsen at the end of the year as sailors did not want to commit to new contracts and could not make it home due to port closures for Christmas and frequent changes in travel restrictions. risk of making. .

This would put increased pressure on extended supply chains and could worsen existing challenges with food, for example. fuel supply in the United Kingdom.

“The global supply chain is very fragile and depends on a navigator [from the Philippines] As it does on a truck driver to deliver goods,” ITF Secretary General Stephen Cotton said. “It is time for heads of government to respond to the needs of these workers.”

When Karin Marchal and her crew were told that they would not be allowed ashore when docking in Hokkaido, Japan, it was a major 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.

This was more than 18 months ago. Marchal – and hundreds of thousands of sailors like him – have not been allowed shore leave since then.

After weeks on a ship, a few hours ashore provide 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,” as she’s at least been able to make it home in the United States.

“There are people who have been stranded at sea for more than a year,” she said.

At the beginning of the pandemic, many sailors agreed to extend their contracts by several months to continue to supply food, fuel, medicine and other consumer goods around the world. The grounding of planes and border closures made it nearly impossible to move workers and exchange workers from one part of the world to another.

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

repeated test

Although these numbers have improved, crew changes remain a major challenge. Some travel restrictions were reimposed as a result of the coronavirus delta version and transportation workers are facing a myriad of vaccine and testing requirements to do their jobs. Often these are put in place at a moment’s notice, Platten said.

Incompatible requirements mean that some sailors have been vaccinated multiple times because some countries have approved only a few vaccines, according to Platten.

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

Meanwhile, the uneven distribution of vaccines globally means that only 25% to 30% of sailors, many of whom are from India and the Philippines, are fully vaccinated, according to Platten.

Coronavirus testing is also a challenge. In February, Germany introduced mandatory PCR testing for truck drivers without any exemptions, prompting neighboring countries, including Italy, to impose similar restrictions to avoid the thousands of drivers stranded in their own territory.

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

“Drivers have faced hundreds of border issues and roadblocks through the pandemic,” IRU Secretary General Umberto De Preto said. “Truck drivers, and citizens and businesses that depend on the goods they drive, pay a heavy price for misguided Covid restrictions that do not exempt transport workers,” he said.

Chief Officer Marchal and his crew underwent 10 COVID tests over seven days before being allowed to enter the shipyard in Singapore for repairs last month. Maintenance was delayed by a week following the coronavirus outbreak at the port and the ship is not expected to leave before mid-October. In the meantime, the crew must remain on board.

Mandatory quarantine when disembarking and arriving in their home countries could mean that pilots and sailors spend a month of their vacation in a hotel room before being able to see their families.

Seafarers “run the shipping industry,” yet they have not been given priority over frontline workers, said Shailesh Sukta, captain of Seaspan Amazon, a container ship. “If you want the world [keep] Moving on, you need to ease travel restrictions,” he told CNN Business.


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