Supply chain issues to worsen as virus impacts transport sector

Between a third and half of transport workers are currently unable to work due to complications caused by COVID-19, according to the Transport Workers’ Union, putting major stress on the supply chain and leaving supermarket shelves bare.

Due to sickness or isolation, up to half of the country’s truck drivers are missing, according to TWU national secretary Michael Kaine.

“[We] have a completely predictable scenario where drivers are delivering rapid tests to be sold on the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies, but they, like most Australians, can’t access them themselves,” Kaine said.

“These tests are an important weapon in the fight against the virus and, without them, the virus is hitching a ride through transport supply chains, putting workers and the industry in danger.”

According to Kaine the TWU predicted that the issue would likely become a problem in October, wrote to the Prime Minister in order to secure tests to keep Australia’s supply chain running, but its request was “not met”.

At the time, Kaine warned that “unless the Prime Minister adopts a national plan to head off this supply chain challenge at the pass, future outbreaks and restrictions may again bring transport to its knees”.

Earlier this week, Woolworths revealed it was dealing with supply chain issues in NSW, but the breadth of the issue wasn’t yet known. Coles and Aldi, too, have now acknowledged they are facing similar issues.

“We have been working with our suppliers and other stakeholders to address a number of supply chain issues including availability of pallets and transport capacity, to ensure we can continue to provide our customers with the food and drinks they need,” a Coles spokesperson told The Guardian.

The availability of rapid antigen tests has become a hot button issue in Australia in the last week, with lines for PCR tests stretching for kilometres, and the Prime Minister rejecting calls to make the household tests free for all Australians on the grounds the government shouldn’t undercut retailers.

The ACCC said yesterday it is planning on reviewing retailer’s pricing schemes and behaviours in relation to the sale of rapid antigen tests after receiving more than 100 complaints from customers of unfair pricing.

According to supplier All Cast PPE chief executive Scott Huntsman, retailers have already started holding back on supply to artificially inflate prices, only buying smaller batches of available stock in order to create demand.

“People are desperate – they just want to get their hands on the tests…and they’re willing to pay anything,” Huntsman told Yahoo Finance. “There is cartel-like behaviour, and this pushes prices up and increases demand. People get desperate, and [retailers] playing on the emotions of people.”

So far the ACCC has yet to “name and shame” any retailer, but did note that individual sellers on marketplaces such as Ebay and Kogan were already trying to make a profit from the situation.

This story first appeared on our sister publication Inside Retail