A coalition of unions that represent shipping workers around the world has warned of an imminent ‘global transport systems collapse’ due to lingering impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an open letter on Wednesday, the workers groups warned that fragmented and inconsistent pandemic restrictions around the world have thrown global shipping into chaos.
The warning comes as supply-chain backlogs leave scores of cargo ships idling outside US ports, exacerbating shortages caused by a national truck driver shortage that threatens to derail the Christmas shopping season.
‘We are witnessing unprecedented disruptions and global delays and shortages on essential goods including electronics, food, fuel and medical supplies,’ the shipping workers warned.
Cargo ship congestion continues at the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach as seen here from the Port of LA/Marine Exchange in San Pedro earlier this month
Trucks are parked in Dover, whilst the Port remains closed, in Kent, England, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020. Trucks waiting to get out of Britain backed up for miles due to pandemic restrictions
‘The impact of nearly two years’ worth of strain, placed particularly upon maritime and road transport workers, but also impacting air crews, is now being seen,’ the group said. ‘Their continued mistreatment is adding pressure on an already crumbling global supply chain.’
‘At the peak of the crew change crisis 400,000 seafarers were unable to leave their ships, with some seafarers working for as long as 18 months over their initial contracts,’ the letter said.
‘Flights have been restricted and aviation workers have faced the inconsistency of border, travel, restrictions, and vaccine restrictions/requirements,’ it added.
‘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 workers said.
The groups called on governments to grant freedom of movement for transport workers and prioritize them for vaccinations.
Empty freezers greet shoppers at a Morrisons in Pilton, near Edinburgh, Scotland last month. Supply chain crunches have continued to cause shortages in the US and around the world
Trucks line up to enter the Port of Dover in England during a disruption in December
The letter was signed by the union bosses of IRU, the world road transport organization; IATA, the International Air Transport Association; ICS, the International Chamber of Shipping; and ITF, the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
Meanwhile, US retailers have warned of Christmas shopping chaos as backlogs in supply chains mean there are over 70 container ships queueing off the coast of California and another 60 off New York.
Lines off the coast of Los Angeles are expected to cause shortages across the country – not just in California – into the festive season as the port complex processes 40 per cent of the all containers arriving in the US.
Traffic-jams at ports, which serve as the main entry point for cargo coming from China , have reached their longest since the start of the pandemic and have steadily worsened over the past two months.
Nike has said it is struggling to find enough shipping containers to deliver its merchandise from overseas.
Meanwhile General Motors said it would cut production at its plants in Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee this month because of the dearth of microchips. Ford Motor is also reducing truck production.
‘There are not the people in place to move the containers and the chassis where they need to go. So you’ve got a lot of stuff piling up at the ports and at the warehouses. When that happens, the harder it is to get the stuff that is ready to move,’ John Drake, VP of Supply Chain Strategy for the US Chamber of Commerce told CBS .
Container ships are anchored by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles as they wait to offload on September 20, 2021 near Los Angeles, California
The traffic-jams at Long Beach and Los Angeles ports, which serve as the main entry point for cargo coming from China, has led to goods shortages and price hikes which are expected to worsen in the run-up to the holidays
And the traffic-jam at the ports, which serve as the main entry point for goods coming from China, has already directly impacted the prices for artificial Christmas trees.
Balsam Hill, an artificial tree company based in California, is selling its four-and-a-half-foot tall Grand Canyon Cedar Tree for $499 this year. That is $199 more than the same tree cost in 2020 – a two-thirds increase in price in just 12 months.
‘We’ve never raised prices anywhere close to that in our history and will make way less money,’ Balsam Hill CEO Mac Harman told The Wall Street Journal.
‘For the first time ever for us, the catalog was out, and we didn’t have any products to sell,’ Harman added.
Ships are seen lining up in the New York Bight on Thursday as supply chain chaos spreads. Lines of vessels waiting to berth are now at their longest since the start of the pandemic
‘Our shipments didn’t arrive on time. We’re still trying to figure out exactly where the products are. Are they still on the water or stuck in ports? If this keeps happening, we could go out of business.’
And the enormous demand does not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down in the near future, according to analysts who have warned issues with supply chains and shortages could last well into 2023.
It comes as Costco said it would rent three container ships to import products from Asia to the US and Canada in a bid to ease supply chain woes after it was forced to reinstate limits on purchases of toilet paper, paper towels and bottle water last week.
The port of Long Beach said it was testing out a 24/7 pilot program to expand the hours for cargo pickup through the night when there is less traffic in the region, allowing for speedier delivers. And FedEx said it was rerouting more than 600,000 packages per day as it scrambles to cope with the labor shortage plaguing businesses throughout the US.