Global uptick in port-related worker shortages

The International Association of Ports and Harbors’ new report found that there is an uptick in port-related worker shortages.

On the week following the six-month anniversary of the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement of COVID19 as a global pandemic, the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH)’s new report found that there is an uptick in port-related worker shortages.  The latest week 36 report summarized responses from 85 ports from around the world.

In weeks 15 to 23, the ports facing shortages of dockworkers ranged between 13% and 22%, with only 2-5% of ports reporting severe shortages. The situation has improved since then. In week 29, only 6% of the ports mentioned any shortages of dockworkers, a figure below the 12-13% range in weeks 23 to 27, and significantly lower than the peak of 22% in week 18. 

The survey results for week 36 however report that moderate shortages of dockworkers have started to emerge again, as 13% of the ports have to address such shortages. Nonetheless, a relatively low number of ports (1%) currently need to address some serious shortages.

Shortages are also slightly up for the delivery of technical-nautical services (pilots, towage, mooring). In week 36, 10% of the ports were confronted with moderate shortages, and 2% by major ones. These percentages are considerably higher than those observed in week 29 when only 4% of the sample faced shortages for the delivery of technical-nautical services. 

Problems with harbor master services (including VTS operators) have been lower throughout the pandemic – never exceeding 8%. Notably in week 36, an 8% of the sample ports are short of personnel for harbor master services, a percentage that is only 1% shy to the peak shortage of week 18.

One third of ports experienced difficulties with Port Authority personnel availability following the COVID-19 outbreak, when government-enforced rules and lockdowns forced staff to work from home with only essential staff working from port. 

Adjusting to teleworking and social distancing took some weeks. The peak of the problem was week 15 when nearly 30% of ports were experiencing problems. Since week 16, port authorities confronted with personnel shortages ranged between 22% and 26% (week 18).

Teleworking expanded, transforming working from home as a regular practice, especially for employees in administrative services. Working in shifts became another adopted practice, in order to avoid a whole section/department being quarantined should one of the staff suffer infection. 

Operational workers attended work as normal in spite of port workers having to respect safety measures (i.e. longer checks; personal protection equipment etc.) in order to prevent direct contact (e.g. social distancing).

As adaptation to the ‘new normal’ continued, shortages since then were limited to approximately 10% of the ports or less; in week 27 and week 29, that percentage was a single digit one. In week 29 only 1.8% of the port authorities reported a moderate to more serious decline in staff availability, by far the lowest figure to date.

The Week 36 survey, however, indicates that the situation has not improved further. On the contrary, 11% of port authorities face some moderate shortages of personnel and 4% more some more serious problems.

Since week 17, the Barometer has also monitored the availability of truck drivers. Following an initial period of considerable shortages, i.e. at 21% in lockdown conditions in many economies (week 17), the situation improved. Less than 15% of ports have faced shortages of truck drivers since week 19 (i.e. 12 in week 19, 9% in week 20, 11% in week 21). 

The availability of truck drivers remained stable at lower levels since week 23, at 7% or lower of the reporting ports. However, in week 36, shortages of truck drivers were on the rise again – 10% of the surveyed ports faced some moderate shortages and 2% some more serious ones.

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