Road transport operators warn of a "perfect storm" in supply chain crisis

After some signs of recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, global supply chains are being put at risk again by an unprecedented crisis. As the backbone of global supply chains, road transport operators are calling on governments for support to avoid bankruptcies and to stabilize the transport system as a whole.

Dramatic increases in demand, ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, driver shortages and drastic fuel price increases have created a "perfect storm" that can further aggravate supply chain disruptions just before the holiday season and well into 2022, warns the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the global industry association for road transport, representing 3.5 million transport companies.

"The road transport sector, in particular truck drivers, has played a huge part in keeping the economy moving, and will certainly continue to do so," said Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO). "Governments must now do their part to ensure the sector has the decent working conditions needed to keep our supply chains open."

"To tackle the crisis effectively governments, workers' and employers' organizations, and others involved in the road transport supply chain – shippers, receivers, transport buyers and intermediaries – will need to work together. The critical role played by these workers must be recognized and taken into account, including by public health authorities and border control agencies, in efforts to control the pandemic," added Ryder.

In November, the IRU issued an Emergency call to governments to urgently address the supply chain crisis. "We need governments to act now to avoid delays and shortages of products through to the end of the year and into 2022," said IRU Secretary General Umberto de Pretto.

Asli Çalik, President of IRU's Goods Transport Council, also expressed concern, as "supply chain disruptions are causing major issues every day in my region, at the crossroads of Eurasian and global trade, as in most other countries. Logistics companies are doing their best, but governments also need to act now to keep goods moving."

"Transport workers have kept the world's supply chains and people moving, despite the neglect by world leaders. 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," said Stephen Cotton, General Secretary of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), which represents 19 million transport workers.

In September, a joint open letter, sent to the United Nations, made an urgent plea for a reinstatement of freedom of movement for transport workers. It was signed by the International Road Transport Union (IRU), the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the International Chamber of Shipping and the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF).

The ILO has tools to help address some aspects of the crisis experience in road transport.

The ILO's Guidelines on the promotion of decent work and road safety in the transport sector provide constituents and other road transport chain parties – shippers, receivers, brokers and transport buyers – a solid basis for tackling some of the most pressing industry challenges.

They include internationally agreed regulatory principles adopted by workers, employers and governments in 2019 on the calculation of sustainable payments; attraction, retention, diversity and image; professionalization and formalization; occupational safety and health; licensing and the provision of welfare facilities.

In June, the ILO adopted a Global Call to Action for a human-centred recovery, which outlines a series of measures to invest in people, their skills, their health and social protection.

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