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Compromised Links in the Supply Chain

Updated: Oct 28, 2022

Exploring Labor Shortages and Entry Bottlenecks

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so the saying goes. When it comes to the current state of the global supply chain, weakness is everywhere.”

Garth Friesen, Forbes

As a global supply chain logistics provider, Watchpoint Logistics, Inc. has certainly kept a close eye on the recent issues plaguing our industry. Shortages in supply plague multiple industries across the globe. Regardless of location or product, certain links in every supply chain are experiencing vulnerability. The reasons are complex, including pre-pandemic tariffs and threats of trade war in addition to the supply/demand roller coaster caused by mandated shutdowns and subsequent re-openings.

Currently, two seriously compromised links in the supply chain include a bottleneck of transport vessels and a severe labor shortage.

Last month, a record-breaking 73 ships found themselves bottlenecked outside southern California ports near L.A. and Long Beach. In pre-pandemic years, it was rare for more than one ship to await a berth. This recent crisis is indicative of fissures in the chain causing extended delays worldwide.

The human toll is as high as the economic. With nearly 90% of global trade transported by ship, the seafarers manning these vessels are an often ignored but crucial link. Due to travel restrictions and other complications during the pandemic, those working on ocean going vessels have sometimes been trapped at sea for months on end. According to a July 20, 2021, Reuters’ report, 100,000 seafarers were stranded at sea and 100,000 more have been forced ashore, unable to earn a living.

This summer, the United Nations rightly deemed the situation a looming humanitarian crisis and the New York Times, quoting Guy Platten- secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, confirms:

“This floating population, many of which have been at sea for over a year, are reaching the end of their tether. If governments do not act quickly and decisively to facilitate the transfer of crews and ease restrictions around air travel, we face the very real situation of a slowdown in global trade.”

The stakes are high, crew morale is low, and the end is not yet in sight.

Seafarers are not the only ones experiencing frustration. Keeping the supply chain moving and retail shelves stocked is a difficult task given the hurdles truckers and railroad employees face. The supply chain congestion flows downstream: Trains are sometimes backed up for 25 miles awaiting entry into railyard and trucks wait hours or even days to pick up and/or deliver their loads.

Last December, French truck drivers found themselves stranded in the UK when the French border suddenly closed due to concerns over a new COVID19 variant. While waiting for tests, drivers endured freezing temperatures and little access to food, facilities, or medical care. These complications continue to ripple throughout the global supply chain today.

Labor shortages contribute to the backlog problem. For example, the unprecedented shipping backlog facing L.A. and Long Beach last month is in large part due to a lack of workers available to unload goods.

The skeletal crews still at work have endured unbearable circumstances with little relief. Often employees must use up valuable vacation time before and after a job to accommodate mandated quarantines. And with vaccine requirements differing from country to country, some workers have reported receiving as many as 6 doses of the vaccine just to enter international ports. Others report being tested as many as 10 times in 7 days.

Global transportation teams, whether working on sea or land, have reached a breaking point. Many employees are leaving jobs, exacerbating an existing labor shortage. Workers who remain, after calculating a journey’s length including delays, frequently pass up jobs that may keep them apart from family too long. Leaders in air, land, and sea transportation must continue to appeal to the UN and heads of state, asking for help in managing inefficiencies and relieving worker strain, before the entire global supply chain grinds to a screeching halt.

Only time will tell how the problem eventually resolves and how things will play out for consumers. In the meantime, as the holidays approach and peak transportation season looms, companies must stretch their resources to keep afloat. And, with each work-around, consumer costs grow higher and higher. With the potential for numerous transport strikes around the world, this holiday season may require more patience than most.

We’d love to hear about your supply chain experiences. Please contact Watchpoint Logistics, Inc. to discuss potential solutions to your current shipping challenges.

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