Thursday, September 30, 2021

As Authorities Fail to Deliver Promises a Humanitarian Crisis for Supply Chain Workers Ensues

Governments Ineptitude Will Cause 'Blood and Chaos'
Shipping News Feature

UK – WORLDWIDE – The behaviour of the British government in the past few days is a microcosm of the global situation which has engendered a body of international supply chain groups which represent more than $20 trillion of world trade annually, to demand action at this week's UN General Assembly for freedom of movement for industry workers.

The UK situation is different from the global in that Brexit, rather than Covid 19, lays at the heart of the British problem. On Monday we quoted Elizabeth de Jong from Logistics UK praising the decision to allow foreign workers visas to enter the country on a temporary basis to assist with the driver shortage. By today her mood had changed significantly as she said:

“Logistics UK is concerned at the news that the temporary visas for HGV drivers granted by government may be for only a two month duration, rather than the declared three month period. The three month visa was much lower than the six months we had requested to enable additional testing capacity to be delivered by DVSA and more drivers to be trained. Our fear is that it is very unlikely that a two month visa will attract EU drivers which would make the scheme impotent. We are seeking urgent clarification from the government on this issue.”

Why the government should imagine that any worker competent enough to handle an HGV on the continent should welcome the opportunity for just two months work in Britain, with all the upheaval that entails, is hard to comprehend. This particularly with the ever changing regulations regarding Covid. And it is the pandemic which is what those international groups see as the major problem.

In an open letter published on the day of UNGA’s General Debate in New York, IRU, the International Road Transport Union, the International Air Transport Association (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 says that heads of government have failed to listen to their calls for freedom of movement for transport workers and for governments to use protocols that have been endorsed by international bodies for each sector, and to prioritise transport workers for vaccinations as called for in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) SAGE Roadmap for Prioritising Uses of vaccines.

They want to end the blame-shifting within and between governments and take the decisive and coordinated action needed to resolve the crisis. They point out that transport workers have all continued to keep global trade flowing throughout the pandemic, but it 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. 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. Umberto de Pretto, IRU Secretary General said:

“Truck drivers have 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.”

All transport sectors are also seeing a shortage of workers, and expect more to leave as a result of the poor treatment millions have faced during the pandemic, putting the supply chain under greater threat. In the air freight sector hundreds of aircraft have been converted to freight as belly hold capacity disappeared with the devastating slump in passenger carriage. 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, unharmonised 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 harmonised set of crew measures that will facilitate efficient global connectivity.”

Now the industry groups say global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years’ worth of strain on transport workers take their toll. Transport heads warned 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. Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General 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.”

Throughout the pandemic transport ministries have not been able to work with health ministries to improve the way transport workers are being treated by travel restrictions. Unless heads of government enact change, the humanitarian and supply chain crisis will remain indefinitely, causing more hardship. Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization said:

“This issue was raised last year at the UN General Assembly by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and it will be essential that delegates at this years’ gathering in New York are aware of their responsibilities. It is of great importance that the heads of organisations 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.”

To précis the situation the open letter calls for:

  • Transport workers to be given priority to receive WHO recognised vaccines
  • The creation of a standardised process for demonstrating health credentials
  • The WHO and ILO to raise these issues at the UN General Assembly and with national governments

To sum up Stephen Cotton, ITF Secretary General concluded:

“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.”