State of the Labor Market in the Shipping Industry


As discussed by many on More Than Shipping in recent weeks, demand in the global shipping industry has fallen to pre-pandemic levels. After years of record-breaking quarters in a row, things really slowed down through the second half of 2022. But it doesn’t fix the problems that the industry uncovered throughout the pandemic, nor provide job security for those who have been over worked in congested ports since 2020.

The Labor Market in Shipping

Labor strikes and general unrest took a shockingly heavy toll on ports around this world last year, and the outlook for continued slowdowns and economic instability could bring even more disruptions to the global supply chain in 2023.

In 2022, there were at least 38 documented instances in which protests or strikes affected port operations, more than four times the number observed in 2021. When the state of global trade was turned on its head in 2021, the number of protests began to skyrocket, as according to Crisis24, a maritime security consultancy, there were only nine such incidents in all of 2020.

But being overworked through the pandemic isn’t the only thing keeping union bosses up at night. Workers are also feeling the impact of higher fuel and food prices, the increased inflation, and many other economic factors impacting the global economy since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has led to more demands from workers around the world. “Labor unrest is unlikely to decrease going into 2023 and may in fact worsen in the likely event that global economic conditions do not improve,” a spokesman for Crisis24 said earlier this week.

Slashing Jobs

With inflation still a worry for all, jobs have begun to be cut when facing a new demand outlook for the coming year. The San Francisco-based supply chain management and logistics company is set to slash 20% of its workforce amid the global shipping slowdown.

“While we are looking forward to what’s to come in 2023, we must also make hard decisions necessary to set us up for long-term success. We are overall in a good position, but are not immune to the macroeconomic downturn that has impacted businesses around the world. Our customers have been impacted by these challenging conditions, resulting in a reduction to our volume forecasts through 2023. Lower volumes, combined with improved efficiencies as a result of new organizational and operational structures, means we are overstaffed in a variety of roles across the company,” Flexport CEOs Dave Clark and Ryan Petersen made in an announcement to its 3,200 employees earlier this week.

In Conclusion

News like this from one of Silicon Valley’s few unicorn companies will certainly only add to the level of distress in the labor market. The fragility of the supply chain and labor markets that support it are teetering on the edge of stability. With fewer and fewer jobs available in the sector, further protests around the world should be expected in the coming year.