War and Transport Workers

8 Mar 2022

During war, transport workers find themselves on the front line.

Transport is crucial for access to food, medicine, and goods as well as work and leisure, and society’s reliance on transport and transport workers becomes even more noticeable during war, as access to food, medicine, and aid becomes essential to survival.

The strategic importance of transport, to civilians and the military, means that transport routes and infrastructure – railways, highways, shipping lanes, airports, transport corridors, etc. – are under military threat, and transport workers risk their lives.

The strategic importance of ports puts dockers under severe threat. Mariupol and Kherson, on the north coast of the Sea of Azov and Black Sea respectively, were specifically targeted due to their status as gateway port cities. This importance is due to the importance of ports in maintaining supply chains of aid and supplies.

Russian and Ukrainian seafarers make up 14.5% of global shipping workforce, – 198,123, or 10.5%, from Russia with a fleet of 2820 ships flying the Russian flag, and 76,442, or 4%, from Ukraine with a fleet of 410 ships flying the Ukrainian flag. Crew changes and repatriation (the return of seafarers to their country of origin) are essential to the health of seafarers, and their right to this is enshrined in the Maritime Labour Convention 2006, as amended. We understand that crew changes for Ukrainian crews may be near impossible as the Ukraine State Border Guard Service has prohibited all men aged between 18 and 60 from leaving the country.

Areas in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov have been designated as ‘Warlike Operations Areas’, triggering an increased security level. The lives of seafarers on board vessels in these areas are under threat and it has been reported that merchant ships have been hit by artillery in the Black Sea. This war will leave seafarer’s stranded, often without accommodation and with disrupted salaries. Seafarers of all nationalities and from around the world have been reported stranded in various Ukrainian ports, including reportedly seafarers from the Philippines. Employers have been asked by our Ukrainian affiliate MTWTU to extend contracts, at the request of seafarers, and allow seafarers, at their request, to leave before contract expiration.

Ukrainian railway workers are working day-and-night transporting refugees to the Ukraine’s western borders with Poland, Hungary, Moldova and Romania, under reported threat of bombardment of railway lines. These railway workers are working to increased and intensified schedules from areas of conflict to the western borders of Ukraine with carriages packed with people, and stocked with water, food and medicine on the return leg. Despite the risk, these workers have offered to create evacuation corridors to facilitate the escape of peoples, particularly those attempting to flee the war-torn east between Donetsk and Mariupol.

The war in Ukraine has left many aviation workers stranded without any support from their employer, and without accommodation or pay and under threat as a result. Opportunistic airlines maintained flights in-and-out of Ukraine until the last-minute, risking the safety of their crew, despite reports that these airlines had knowledge of upcoming threats and sanctions. Other airlines are taking the opportunity to exploit the war and are encouraging passengers to travel through their hubs rather than the EU, and still allowing Russian aircraft to transit their airspace. The exclusion of air traffic has also led to route extensions for aircraft avoiding Russian and Ukrainian airspace of up to five hours, increasing the working time of cabin crew and pilots. Aircraft safety is severely threatened when flying over or near warzones. The safety of crew and passengers must remain the principal concern, and all airspace over or near any form of conflict should remain closed until the end of any conflict. The ETF will investigate and promote methods for the use of aviation to support the movement of refugees around Europe, and to deliver humanitarian aid as quickly and efficiently as possible.

The exclusion of air traffic over Ukraine has led to difficultly for aid to reach its intended destination in Ukraine. Aid is being flown first to Poland where it is the responsibility of truck drivers to transport it across the border from Poland, where there are many truck drivers of Ukrainian origin. As road transport is often the last viable transport option, truck drivers often risk their lives to supply frontline areas. Thousands of truck drivers, many Ukraine nationals in particular, have been left stranded throughout Europe, as haulage companies they work for are unable to fund their fuel and toll passes and for other reasons. Many EU-based logistics and haulage companies rely on third-country nationals – such as truck drivers from Ukraine – with many reports of abuse of the workers themselves as well as abuses of their rights and conditions.

Above are some of the direct impacts that war has on transport workers. This list does not detail the countless personal stories of bravery and courage displayed by transport workers in areas of conflict facilitating the transport of supplies or the transport of refugees. This list also does not list the effects of war on transport workers of neighbouring countries, nor the countless acts of solidarity displayed by these transport workers and their trade unions. ETF transport unions across Europe are working tirelessly to assist stranded transport workers and fleeing transport workers and their families – providing accommodation food and financial assistance. Our immediate priority must be to provide practical assistance to all, but we must remain watchful to safeguard these workers and all refugees against exploitation and guarantee that they are provided with housing, stable jobs, access to education and healthcare.

Violence and aggression must never be allowed to win. Solidarity and peace must always win.