The mainstays of our global networks—seafarers, truck drivers and aviation personnel—have alerted world leaders to a “global transport systems collapse” in an open letter from the International Air Transport Association, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), International Transport Workers’ Federation and World Road Transport Organisation (IRU). These groups represent 65 million workers, who are reaching their professional and emotional limits.
The letter states: “We 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, with some working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts. Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel and vaccine restrictions. Additional and systemic stopping at road borders has meant truck drivers have been forced to wait, sometimes weeks, before being able to complete their journeys and return home.”
The organizations are requesting a meeting with World Health Organization and International Labour Organization leadership. In addition, they want these issues raised at the United Nations General Assembly and have called on heads of government to take “meaningful and swift action” to resolve this disaster.
“Something is off with the way we’re operating,” writes Amy Davidson Sorkin for The New Yorker. “What’s often at the heart of a supply chain issue is a labor issue.”
She cites the more than 70 container ships idling in a “maritime parking lot” at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach: “There aren’t enough dockworkers to unload their cargo or enough truck drivers to move it out of the ports.”
These talent shortages are not just confined to the United States. This week, the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association appealed to local government to allow foreign workers into the country to help fill 25,000 vacant jobs. Manufacturing in Malaysia relies heavily on migrant labor — people who have not been let into the country since the start of the pandemic. In the United Kingdom, the government will permit foreign workers for the last three months of the year to address shortages there. UK migrant workers are mainly represented in manufacturing, shipping, agriculture and food services.
According to The Wall Street Journal, America’s labor crisis has likewise been exacerbated by Trump administration immigration restrictions: “Unemployed American workers weren’t interested in jobs typically held by foreign hires at the lower and seasonal end of the job market, and the visa ban didn’t help those unqualified for specialized jobs at the higher end.”
The U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs reports that 572,587 fewer people received temporary or permanent worker visas in 2020. “The sudden absence of that pipeline revealed how such workers have become embedded in certain parts of the U.S. economy,” the Journal states.
Admittedly, there is wide disagreement over our current labor strain. Beyond immigration policy, we have lost millions of people from COVID-19, many of whom were active members of the global workforce. Plus, some people who were laid off early in the pandemic haven’t gone back to work over fear of infection; others simply don’t want to deal with irrational customers annoyed by mask and vaccination policies.
“Professional reckonings have taken place among higher-paid workers, too,” Sorkin notes. “Transitions require mobility and time. And, even with schools reopening, a shortage of affordable day care (and of day-care workers) means that some parents who want to return to jobs can’t do so.”
We must figure this out
Today is the first Friday of October, which means it’s Manufacturing Day. Traditionally, ASCM has taken this opportunity to celebrate the essential contributions of our industry’s workers and raise awareness about supply chain’s superior job security, impressive wages and positive career outlook. This year, however, it’s clear that supply chain organizations have much work to do in order to exemplify these promises.
At moments like this, we must affirm that people are our most precious supply chain resource. As I recently wrote: “Supply chain organizations have to figure out what’s next, but always keeping people at the forefront. … Our people’s well-being is everything.”
This is an incredibly difficult issue, which demands cooperation, partnership and perseverance. I urge you be a part of its solution by joining forces with ASCM colleagues from around the world in the ASCM CONNECT community. Together, our global network of dedicated professionals has the strength and skill to decipher even the most complex supply chain challenges.