Vaccine prioritisation needed for the unsung heroes of the UK ports sector, says BPA

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(Image Courtesy: British Ports Association)

The British Ports Association has called for essential port workers to be given priority during the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine amid rising infection levels so as to protect vital supply chains.

The UK ports industry is the second largest in Europe, handling almost 500 million tonnes of freight each year and facilitating 95% of the UK’s trade. Over 115,000 people are directly employed in the UK ports industry.

Key maritime workers have ensured imports of foods, essential products, energy and fuel supplies continue to move into the country throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. The sector has continued to demonstrate how effective and efficient it is, responding to unprecedented retail circumstances and various operational and logistical challenges, all the while dealing with an increase in staff absences due to Covid-19.

As half of the UK’s food is imported, it is critical that ports can remain open and their workforce remains resilient so that shops, public services and businesses are supplied with what the country needs.

Commenting, Sara Walsh, Head of Corporate Services at the British Ports Association, who has been leading on much of the Covid-19 response for the UK’s ports sector, said:

We understand the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation and different parts of government are currently considering what sectors or particular roles or workers should be priortised for the Covid-19 vaccine. Understandably there has been a lot of interest from different parts of the economy on this matter and obviously we understand the need to vaccinate health professionals and those who are medically vulnerable.

However we are talking about unsung heroes who keep the county supplied. From marine pilots, to cutter crew, crane and plant operators, vessel traffic service operators, tug operators, quayside operators, stevedores and linesmen. There are a number of “pinch point” roles within the ports sector that are essential to ensuring trade continues to flow and the wider supply chain remains resilient.

Whilst the vast majority of ports in the UK have been able to maintain continuous operations throughout the pandemic, there is an increasing concern within the sector about surge of infection rates. As a consequence the number of employees who are having to self-isolate, whether that be because they have tested positive or are a close contact of someone who has increased rapidly in certain parts of the country.

Following the completion of phase one of the vaccination roll-out, we strongly urge the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to include port workers, and in particular those in key “pinch point” roles to be priortised as a matter of urgency.

The British Ports Association is the national association for all types of ports, harbours and terminals. It’s membership facilitates 86% of all UK port trade as well as providing vital gateways and hubs for the energy, tourism and fishing industries.

Sea News, January 18

Baibhav Mishra
Author: Baibhav Mishra

Associate Editor, Sea News