Saving Christmas?: Transport bosses call for Covid restriction easing

October 10, 2021

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3 min read

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What's going on here?

Transport groups are calling for the removal of travel restrictions on their workers to prevent a Christmas supply chain crisis. 

What does this mean?

World transport leaders and unions have joined together to urge the heads of worldwide governments attending the United Nations General Assembly to remove COVID-19 travel restrictions on their transport workers and provide them with priority over vaccines. Without this, they warn that global supply chains are at risk of collapse by Christmas.

In an open letter, the transport groups write that almost two years of border and travel restrictions, social-distancing requirements and factory closures have wreaked havoc on regular supply chains. These disruptions led to delivery delays, overcrowding at ports and increasing rates on the main shipping routes. It also had an “enormously detrimental impact on [transport workers’] wellbeing and safety”, leading to workers leaving.

Now the shortage of transport workers is putting further pressure on the already “crumbling” global supply chain.” And without governmental action, the group warns that things will only worsen, with mass shortages of essential goods like food, fuel, medical supplies and electronics ahead of Christmas.

What's the big picture effect?

The shipping, road and aviation industries account for over $20tn of annual world trade. Workers play a vital part in keeping the world running through the movement of essential goods like food, fuel and vaccines – this was especially clear during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, transport groups, representing 65m workers, feel they have been “continually failed by governments and taken for granted.”  For instance, COVID-19 caused many disruptions across their industry. This includes the crew change crisis which at its peak left approximately 400,000 shipping crew members unable to leave their ships; many had to work 18 months over their initial contracts. Flights also faced restrictions leaving aviation workers grappling with inconsistent border, travel and vaccine requirements and restrictions. Truck drivers dealt with systemic stops at road borders, forcing some to wait weeks before being able to finish their trips and return home. Although transport groups called for the removal of travel bans for workers and the prioritisation of vaccines from the beginning of the pandemic, they argue that heads of governments failed to listen. 

It is obvious that governments worldwide were grappling with the impact of a global pandemic and ensuring that other industries continued to function. This is something the group recognises but claims that the departments of health and transport did not utilise early guidance. For example, WHO advised keeping restrictions short in duration or regularly reconsidering them.   

So with the strain of the past two years beginning to take its toll on the global supply chain, more transport workers are expected to leave. This means shortages are expected, leaving supply chains worldwide under greater threat.  The effect of transport worker shortages has been evident in the last week. For example, in the UK, there were moves to deploy soldiers to deliver petrol to help with the fuel crisis due to truck driver shortages. The American Trucking Associations also reported a shortfall of almost 61,000 truckers in the US. 

With this in mind, it is now important for WHO, IFO and government leaders to identify solutions to prevent the collapse of global transport systems. One solution could involve WHO and heads of government collaborating to create a uniform process for showing COVID-19 tests results or even a “global harmonised, vaccination certificate.” Both would allow transport workers to cross international borders.

It is clear that complete actions need to be taken to deal with the fragmented travel rules and restrictions, but such decisions may disrupt industries. However, with governments hoping to achieve full economic recovery, clear decisions will be welcome.

Report written by Goodness Asaolu

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