Insights

Spotlight on Front Line Supply Chain Workers During the Pandemic

January 19, 2021

Here’s why our front line Supply Chain workers need support during this unprecedented time. 

Over the course of this long, strange and difficult year, we at Argentus have been blogging about the key importance that Supply Chain professionals are playing in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic. From helping ensure that PPE, vital supplies, as well as food and consumer products make their way across the country, to ramping up the vaccination rollout that promises to end this mess, Supply Chain professionals of all stripes have become some big heroes during the pandemic.

They’ve applied their strategic skills, their tenacity, and a whole lot of hours to keep our country moving. They should be supported, celebrated, and recognized. As we blogged about earlier in the pandemic, Supply Chain awareness has finally broken through to the wider world as organizations – and the general public – for the first time have almost universal recognition of its importance.

But there’s a crucial segment of Supply Chain we haven’t blogged as much about: those on the front lines.

Today’s Supply Chain function is extraordinarily complex, with various disciplines involved in moving products to market – everything from procurement, to supply and demand planning, to logistics, to manufacturing, to distribution, as well as other strategic disciplines like Supply Chain network design, digital transformation, risk mitigation, supplier relationship management and others. But at the tip of the spear are the front-line workers: the warehouse associates and supervisors, distribution lead hands, pickers, manufacturing line workers, and other individuals charged with physically handling materials.

During COVID-19, these people are not only facing a challenging workplace and the stress that comes with it — they’re also directly in the line of fire of COVID-19 itself. They’re the lowest paid people in the field. And according to public health data, spread among these front-line Supply Chain workers is driving COVID-19 numbers higher in places like Peel (which includes Brampton, Caledon and Mississauga).

According to Peel Public Health, as of November there had been 137 workplace outbreaks of COVID-19 there since the pandemic began. Since then, the number has only grown. It’s happening in fulfilment centres, manufacturing facilities, distribution facilities and warehouses in industries like consumer goods, food, and others.

In December, Brampton’s Mayor Patrick Brown highlighted this difficult situation. As Ontario has moved into province-wide “gray” level lockdown, and more recently an official stay-at-home order, these Supply Chain-related workplaces keep chugging – taking on risk for workers who often don’t have other options.

Brown is well aware of the risks involved. As he put it, “Canada’s Supply Chain hasn’t really changed during the pandemic. But that would not be the case for these unsung pandemic heroes. One thing I was frustrated with at the beginning of the pandemic was that there was almost a stigma towards Brampton and Peel Region when it really should have been an appreciation.”

We agree. We’re asking these frontline workers, who aren’t able to work remotely, or social distance, to put themselves at risk. But we shouldn’t then turn around and stigmatize these vital industries for driving COVID-19 spread. Instead, we should celebrate these workers – and more importantly, we should support them.

As a recent article on this topic in Canadian Manufacturing magazine described, many front line Supply Chain workers are new immigrants with advanced degrees back home, working in underemployment conditions while they try to get roles commensurate with their skills. Many don’t have other options. If they get COVID-19, many are forced to go to work to pay the bills, and many don’t have supports to ensure that they keep their employment if they do fall ill.

But that might be changing. Pressure is mounting on Ontario Premier Doug Ford to offer government paid sick leave for front-line workers who are unable to socially distance, or to mandate that companies provide paid sick leave to their workers. We don’t want to wade into politics, but in our opinion, it’s the least we can do to support the front-line Supply Chain workers keeping Canada moving. It’s also a smart pandemic policy: if sick workers are paid to physically distance, that will help mitigate the spread of the disease. In our opinion, further supports including rapid testing at workplaces and enhanced screening will go a long way to protecting these vital workers.

As recruiters specialized in Supply Chain at the sole contributor level and above, we spend a lot of time talking about (and to) Supply Chain Managers, rather than those working the nuts-and-bolts jobs. But in a moment like this, we need to celebrate these front line workers. Those in management, as well as the government, need to act to protect them, in recognition of their vital role in Canada’s economy and way of life.

For people who are performing heroics every day under difficult conditions, it’s the least we can do.

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