Covid-19 Restrictions Push Transport Workers to the Brink
Airline staff, truck drivers, and seafarers have been subject to testing requirements, travel restrictions, and quarantines to keep global supply chains moving during a prolonged pandemic. Many are on the brink of exhaustion, which is yet another threat to carriers shipping cargo around the globe. In September, industry groups sent an open letter to the UN General Assembly, highlighting the need to ensure that transport workers are given vaccine priority. The letter also stresses the importance of freedom of movement for transport staff.
Why Worker Shortages?
According to industry experts, all shipping sectors are faced with worker shortages due to the stress staff has been under during the pandemic. After weeks or months onboard, spending a day on shore helps crew recharge, making it much needed respite for seafarers. Yet, for over a year and a half, crews have only been allowed to leave a ship to return home, with some stuck at sea for over 12 months.
Things are expected to get worse toward the fourth quarter because marine crews may not be willing to commit to new contracts and endure continuous changes in travel restrictions. Many have been stranded onboard beyond their contracts and may not want to risk not making it home for the holiday season.
All this can put a lot of pressure on overstretched supply chains, further exacerbating fuel and food supply problems in the United Kingdom. The ongoing crisis in the UK has shown that supply chains rely on marine crews as much as on truck drivers and warehouse workers for delivery and storage and distribution.
Multiple Testing and Vaccinations
Crew changes are still a major problem due to travel restrictions in place as a result of the Delta variant. In some cases, testing and vaccine requirements change within a matter of days. Inconsistent requirements pose a further problem, with some countries having only approved a handful of vaccines, and seafarers being forced to get a jab multiple times. Some crews have received three 2-dose regimes or six doses altogether due to the lack of global standard.
The unequal distribution of vaccines is also a major challenge. According to industry experts, about 25 – 30 percent of crews have been vaccinated. Many of them are from the Philippines and India and to make matters worse, the United States and other nations do not recognize Russia’s Sputnik V and India’s Covaxin vaccines. Some countries only offer two-dose regimes, with crews getting their first jab at home and having to find a second dose of the same vaccine in another port of call.
Experts also point that testing is a challenge in some countries. Germany, for example, requires PCR testing for all truckers, forcing neighboring states to respond with similar restrictions. Italy has imposed mandatory PCR testing to ensure that truck drivers are not stuck in its territory. While businesses and individuals rely on continuous supply, transport workers across sectors pay a heavy price due to inconsistent standards and continued changes in Covid-19 restrictions.