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Global Transport Groups Urge UN to End ‘Humanitarian Crisis’ for Supply Chain Workers

Global road, air and sea organizations and unions on Wednesday called on world leaders gathering at this week’s United Nations General Assembly to end a “global humanitarian and supply chain crisis.”

In an open letter published on the day of UNGA’s General Debate in New York, the International Road Transport Union (IRU), International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITWF) made an urgent plea to the world’s heads of government to restore freedom of movement to transport workers.

The groups said 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, they stressed. Flights have been restricted and “aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel restrictions and vaccine requirements.”

“Over the past 18 months, aviation workers have been amazingly resilient in keeping world trade lanes open,” Willie Walsh, IATA director general, said. “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.”

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In addition, “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.”

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,” IRU secretary-general Umberto de Pretto said. “These have made chronic driver shortages even worse. Drivers are essential workers: governments need to act and allow them to do their vital job.”

The organizations said global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years’ worth of strain on transport workers take their toll. The transport heads warned that states have failed to listen or take 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.

The bodies represent more than $20 trillion of world trade annually, 65 million global transport workers, more than 3.5 million road freight and airline companies and more than 80 percent of the world merchant shipping fleet.

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

“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,” Guy Ryder, ILO director-general, said. “It is of great importance that the heads of organizations 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.”

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, the group contended. 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.

“Transport workers have kept the world’s supply chains and people moving despite the neglect of world leaders,” Stephen Cotton, ITF secretary general, said. “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.”