Transport groups warn of supply chain collapse unless workers are protected

By Damian Brett

The heads of transport groups from across the industry have warned of the collapse of supply chains unless governments take steps to safeguard workers.

In an open letter published on the day of the UN General Assembly, the International Road Transport Union (IRU), IATA, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), made an urgent plea to the world’s heads of government to restore freedom of movement to transport workers.

The letter calls for transport workers to be given priority to receive World Health Organization (WHO) recognised vaccines, the creation of a standardized process for demonstrating health credentials and for the WHO and International Labour Organization (ILO) to raise these issues at the UN General Assembly and with national governments.

They said that transport workers had continued to keep trade flowing throughout the pandemic but the strain has taken a human toll.

“At the peak of the crew change crisis 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, some working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts,” the groups said.

“Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel, restrictions, and vaccine requirements. Additional, systemic and unpredictable controls at road borders has 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.”

The groups said that states have failed to listen or take the decisive and coordinated action, and called on heads of government to end the blame-shifting within and between governments and resolve this crisis before the looming holiday season again increases freight demand, further pressuring supply chains.

Willie Walsh, IATA director general, said: Over the past 18 months, aviation workers have been amazingly resilient 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 a globally harmonized set of crew measures that will facilitate efficient global connectivity.”

Stephen Cotton, ITF secretary general, said: Transport workers have kept the world’s supply chains and people moving 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.”

Last week, Tiaca also issued a plea for governments to fast-track ad hoc charter permits and consider supporting 7th freedom regimes where they are being implemented.

The group warned that the air cargo industry faced unprecedented challenges in the fourth quarter of the year.

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