Seafarers, air transport workers must be prioritised for vaccine

March 29, 2021

Credit: D.Marmolejo

Today the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) reiterates our strong request for seafarers and aviation workers to be prioritised by governments in their Covid-19 vaccination programmes. The ITF welcomes the joint statement from UN bodies last week supporting this position.

Covid-19 and its impacts have been felt by none more acutely than transport workers and their families. They have been at the literal front lines of moving people and cargo during this unprecedented pandemic. They have worked day and night to ensure that supplies, food and medicines essential to the health and economic responses to this virus continue to move. They have sacrificed so much, so that we may survive, to keep the world moving.

Now it is time for us to recognise that sacrifice by prioritising seafarers and aviation workers in every national Covid-19 vaccination around the world. These workers must be vaccinated in priority groupings alongside key medical and health workers, and prior to the general populations of the world’s respective countries.

International seafarers must be vaccinated as a priority group by both the governments of their home countries, and by the port states visited by the ships that they work on. The public will be safer and healthier if both the home countries of seafarers and the port states they visit make a concerted effort to vaccinate international seafarers.

While it will always be for governments to make decisions on whether will vaccines be compulsory or otherwise for transport workers to transit their borders by land, air or sea; we believe the choice to take up vaccination should be on an equal opportunity basis for the world’s transport workers. No transport workers should be left behind because of the limited resources of their home country, nor forced to give up a career in the industries they love because of the inaccessibility of vaccines. This is an issue of equality and fairness.

We also wish to take this opportunity to recognise that through the pandemic the cause and welfare of transport workers has been supported by the United Nations and its dedicated bodies. The ITF would like to extend our thanks to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and the International Labour Organization (ILO) in particular. Without the tireless advocacy and coordination of these bodies, transport workers –aviation and maritime workers in particular – would have been much worse off.

We also recognise the work of the UN Crisis Management Team and that of the World Health Organization (WHO) to combating Covid-19. The heads of these five UN bodies signed the joint statement last week.

Covid-19 is a global virus. It is a virus that has the capacity to ravage all the people of the world to devastating effect. This is a moment that calls for borderless solidarity – the value at the very foundation of the ITF. There is no global response without borderless solidarity.

The large-scale job losses and economic impact caused by losing much of the passenger aviation industry remains a major source of economic hurt for the workers affected and their communities. During this time of crisis, the UN bodies, and their capacity to view the challenges our world faces without barriers, have helped us develop responses to keep much of the civil aviation and maritime industries moving.

These unprecedented times have seen strong unity between trade unions and employers to work on issues in common, in both the aviation and maritime industries. Despite this unity, many national governments still do not understand the support needed by our sectors and their workforces. Even the relatively simple act of recognising transport workers as ‘key workers’ remains seemingly too difficult for many of the world’s politicians and national-level bureaucracies.

Already we are a year into this pandemic, yet transport workers still need governments to offer greater support and flexibility. These workers still need travel, transit and border exemptions. They still need workable quarantine policies with reasonable charges. They still need protection from the virus, and security against the risks it presents to their jobs and incomes. Governments must respond to these needs in order to let these key workers do their jobs and maintain critical supply chains that all the world’s people rely on.

We in the ITF global union family renew our offer to work collaboratively with all businesses, organisations and governments of goodwill, to ensure that working women and men are afforded safety, security, dignity and respect during this ongoing time of uncertainty and risk.


“A year into this pandemic, seafarers and aviation workers to be prioritised by governments in their Covid-19 vaccination programmes. Governments must prioritise these key workers to allow these to get on with their critical work and maintain critical supply chains that all the world’s people rely on.”

“We are thankful for the advocacy and support shown by the UN bodies for transport workers, and for the efforts of the IMO, ILO and ICAO in particular. Global pandemics affecting global workforces require global leadership – and the UN system has provided that.”

“The UN, industry and unions have stepped up where governments have failed throughout this pandemic. From crew change, to aviation health and safety, to vaccination – we have collaborated to build the solutions needed by transport workers where we cannot wait for slow-moving governments to wake up to the crisis.”

“We will continue to call out those governments and industry players who refuse to take their share of responsibility, those who think that issues like crew change are ‘someone else’s problem’.” 


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