The news cycle related to global supply chain developments and significant disruptions has been relentless.  Alerts and notifications received by Supply Chain Matters have been non-stop and our goal remains to be able to distill the headlines and highlight for readers the most meaningful developments and their implications.

We previously published our latest Global Supply Chain News Capsule Follow-up column yesterday, but we need to make special mention of news that broke last evening.

American Shipper, CNN and other media report that an open letter was sent by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and other global based labor organizations to the heads of state attending the United Nations General Assembly.

This letter provide a stark warning, that being a “global transport system collapse” if governments fail to act on addressing freedom of movement rules among transport workers, and especially in giving such workers the priority to be able to receive needed vaccines.

The letter was signed by labor organizations representing upwards of 65 million transport workers across the globe. The signatories were the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Road Transport Union (IRU) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF). According to the American Shipper report, these groups represent 65 million global transport workers, upwards of 3.5 million road freight and airport companies, and more than 80 percent of the world’s merchant shipping fleet.

In the letter, the secretary general of the ICS warned that transport workers shortages are likely to worsen as the end of the calendar year approaches because ship crews may be reluctant to commit to new labor contracts and risk not being home during the upcoming Christmas holiday period.

The letter requests that the WHO and ILO discuss the humanitarian crisis at the U.N. General Assembly, and that the heads of government take “swift action” to lift fragmented travel rules and provide means to assure that COVID-19 vaccinations are administered to global shipping and transportation workforces. The letter further advocates creating a globally recognized vaccination certificate so workers can cross international borders with a proof of vaccination that can curb the risk of infection spread.

A portion of the letter reportedly states:

At the peak of the crew change crisis, 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, with some seafarers 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. 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. 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.”


Supply Chain Matters Perspectives

Earlier this month, this Editor penned an editorial commentary, Time For Supply Chain Management And Business Leaders To Address Realities And New Thinking.

In the editorial, two takeaway messages were shared. One was our observation that it is time for supply chain and business leaders to step back and assess the bigger picture, if they have not done so thus far. Indeed, there is a reality that in the short-term, supply chain performance may get worse before getting better. A broader picture relates to far more visible needs in supply chain resiliency, existing business and sales strategies, and in recruiting, retention or reskilling of needed worker skills.

The second message was in supply chain leaders making the best of a difficult situation among work teams, especially essential workers. It was a message of ensuring a sense of work-life balance and taking the best care of people during stressful periods.

Regrettably, our editorial should have further mentioned sensitivity to global wide transport workers across all modes of transportation, the sacrifices they have made individually, and what their families and loved ones have sacrificed as well. Supply chain management teams, businesses and consumers owe a debt of gratitude to such workers, and indeed this call to action by international labor groups should not be taken for granted.

At the height of the pandemic last year, when multiple passenger cruise ships and ocean container transport vessels were restricted by mandates from calling on global ports, seafarers were indeed stranded for months at sea. Shipping lines were restricted in offloading crews at multiple global ports, and it was months later when these same lines finally elected to transport crewmembers directly to their home countries, principally the Philippines, Indonesia and India. Air freight and chartered commercial aircraft crews had to undergo specific quarantine measures imposed by various government health regulators involving different international airports.

Indeed, as global supply chains enter the all-important holiday fulfillment surge, the volume and frequency of journeys and mandatory work schedules continue unabated. Major ports now queued up with multiple vessels waiting to be processed adds to the concerns of workers as to when they can again return home.

As this letter depicts, the rates of COVID-19 vaccination rates among workers is estimated to be 22 percent and that needs to be addressed as soon as practical.

Global transport workers take on significant personal risks in performing their respective jobs, especially during a pandemic. At the same time, they provide the skills and dedication to keep global commerce moving.

We urge global agencies like the UN and WHO, along with individual shipping and transportation trade groups to come-up with practical plans and actions that will address both needs for worker health and safety and address fatigue concerns. While this is a complex political and business problem to resolve, it must be undertaken. Global supply chains can ill afford another disruption that involves the equivalent of an elongated Suez Canal disruption.


Bob Ferrari

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