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Trade Groups Urge UN to End Humanitarian Crisis for Supply Chain Workers

Mike Schuler
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September 29, 2021

A group of some of the world’s top trade organizations representing transport workers from across maritime, aviation and trucking are calling on the world’s heads of government to end a ‘global humanitarian and supply chain crisis.’

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

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

Transport workers have all continued to keep global trade flowing throughout the pandemic despite hardships. At the peak of the crew change crisis, some 400,000 seafarers became stranded on their ships, some working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts. Aviation workers and truckers have faced similar obstacles.

Now after nearly two years of strain on transport workers, global supply chains are beginning to buckle. In warning that states have failed to listen or take action, transport heads are calling on heads of government to “end the blame-shifting” and take “decisive and coordinated action” to resolve the crisis before the looming holiday season again increases freight demand, further pressuring supply chains.

“Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the maritime, road and aviation industries have called loudly and clearly on governments to ensure the free movement of transport workers and to end travel bans and other restrictions that have had an enormously detrimental impact on their wellbeing and safety,” the letter states. “Transport workers keep the world running and are vital for the free movement of products, including vaccines and PPE, but have been continually failed by governments and taken for granted by their officials.”

Specifically, the letter calls for transport workers to be given priority to receive WHO recognized vaccines; the creation of a standardized process for demonstrating health credentials; and the WHO and ILO to raise these issues at the UN General Assembly and with national governments.

“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,” said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the UN International Labour Organization.

Guy Platten, Secretary General of the ICS, commended transport workers for their resilience.

“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,” said Platten.

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

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