UN recommends coordinated action for transport workers during Public Health Emergencies

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the crucial role played by the transport sector in ensuring the movement of people and goods during public health emergencies of international concern (PHEIC).

However, transport workers, particularly mobile workers, such as seafarers, truckers, railway workers, and aircrew, have faced significant challenges to their livelihoods and health while facilitating the global supply chain.

At the height of the pandemic, seafarers have been marooned at sea for prolonged periods due to travel restrictions, leading to mental and physical fatigue. Truckers have encountered difficulties in accessing rest areas and facilities. Pilots and airline crews have had to deal with job loss and uncertainty as the aviation industry takes a hit, and railway workers have had to cope with the increased pressure to maintain service levels with reduced staff.

Governments worldwide have enforced public health and social measures, including travel-related measures, to curb the spread of outbreaks. Some of these measures, however, have infringed on transport workers’ rights. The UN thus issued recommendations, including legal, policy, and technical guidance, to support the transport sector during the pandemic.

To further address pressing concerns, the ILO and WHO set up a Joint Action Group to review the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world’s transport workers and the global supply chain (JAG-TSC). The group wants to minimise the adverse effects on transport workers while safeguarding public health and local communities. The UN also established a task force on Covid-19’s impact on seafarers. The task force will consider JAG-TSC’s recommendations and advise the UN Development Cooperation Office (DCO) and UN Resident Coordinators (UNRCs) on potential targeted and coordinated outreach efforts to inform decision-makers and the public about seafarers’ challenges.

UNRCs are vital in coordinating between agencies and promoting engagement for decision-making, supporting the Sustainable Development Goals 3, 8, and 16.

The JAG-TSC suggests more effective means to address transportation issues during the pandemic and future PHEICs, including improved national coordination with affected countries.

The following are among the recommendations to address these issues and future PHEICs:

  • Transport organisations, including employers and labour organisations, should use modalities to engage in ongoing intergovernmental processes at WHO regarding a future WHO Convention or agreement on pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response.
  • Transport organisations should identify contact points for coordination and rapid action concerning Covid-19 and future PHEICs and the related work of UN agencies.
  • Transport bodies should promote workers’ health by encouraging their members to voice their concerns and needs regarding PHEICs and related actions at the national level.
  • Transport bodies should improve the living and working conditions of mobile and cross-border workers and facilitate transportation across international borders by engaging in effective social dialogue with employers and workers’ organisations at global, regional, and national levels.
  • Governments should recognise transport workers as ‘key workers’ during PHEICs with the support of UNRCs and UNCTs. They should improve working conditions for mobile and cross-border transport workers and transportation across borders by engaging in effective social dialogue with employers and workers’ organisations.


Click here for more feature stories in Samudra.