The workers who fuel the global supply chain warned of a possible 'systems collapse' if solutions aren't found

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The workers who fuel the global supply chain warned of a possible 'systems collapse' if solutions aren't found
A container cargo ship in Rotterdam Harbour on April 4, 2021 in the Netherlands. Rotterdam is the largest shipping port outside of Asia. Niels Wenstedt/BSR Agency/Getty Images
  • Several industry groups representing 65 million transport workers warned the situation is getting dire.
  • The groups called for world leaders to give transport workers more mobility and access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • The letter comes as global supply chains face multiple snarls, delaying goods and hiking prices.

Workers from across the supply chain warned world leaders on Wednesday that global trade is facing a possible "system collapse" if solutions aren't quickly reached.

In an open letter to heads of state at the United Nations General Assembly, four industry groups, including the International Chamber of Shipping, called for governments to put an end to travel restrictions for transport workers and give the workers priority access to COVID-19 vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

"Global supply chains are beginning to buckle as two years' worth of strain on transport workers take their toll," the letter said. "Their continued mistreatment is adding pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain."

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The workers groups - which represent over 65 million seafarers, truck drivers, and airline workers across the globe - pointed to limits that had been placed on their movement due to the pandemic, including travel bans and additional requirements at borders.

At the onset of the pandemic about 400,000 seafarers were forced to stay aboard their ships for as long as 18 months - well over their contract periods. The workers' groups said the poor treatment of workers in the transportation sector has exacerbated a worker shortage that will only get worse if the industry is not prioritized.

"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," the letter said. The group went on to add that they request an audience with the WHO and the International Labour Organization "to identify solutions before global transport systems collapse."

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The letter comes at a time when global supply chains are facing historic disruptions. In the US, ports in Southern California have taken the center stage as over 60 hulking cargo ships wait weeks to dock and unload, setting multiple all-time records. In key export markets like China, ports have faced numerous shutdowns due to the country's zero tolerance policy for COVID-19 outbreaks.

The delays have rippled throughout the supply chain, as trucking companies face massive shortages of drivers, and warehouses run out of space for goods. Experts say the delays are only set to worsen in the coming months and will likely continue into 2023, as consumer demand booms ahead of the holiday season while companies work to restore inventory.

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