The Malta Independent 4 August 2021, Wednesday

Coronavirus: Malta’s logistics industry on frontline to supply the country - Franco Azzopardi

Kevin Schembri Orland Tuesday, 17 March 2020, 13:09 Last update: about 2 years ago

The logistics sector is working hard to ensure the continuous supply of essential goods to Malta during the spread of the Coronavirus, but the ever shifting situation has created its own problems that require tackling in the sector, CEO of Express Trailers Franco Azzopardi said.

Speaking to The Malta Independent, Azzopardi said that the people working in the logistics sector recognise that they are the artery of survival for the country, and stressed that given that Malta is isolated from mainland Europe, it is important for the supply chain to continue uninterrupted.

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“It is not business as usual, however, as we need to handle a lot of psychological issues, in the sense that people are scared and uneasy. They recognise that the logistics industry must continue to operate, but at the same time, they are uneasy.”

Azzopardi said that measures can be taken for example, in the case of logistics office employees, by identifying who can work from home. But that has its own issues, he said, as people working from home would feel as though they are in isolation, while those not working from home will question why they weren’t picked. There would be employees who would also have families and children staying at home given that schools are shut. “The situation requires a lot of administrative management.”

Then there are also those employees who deal with customers, and in such cases measures like pushing for online payments and the minimisation of cash handling helps.

These are all practical, physical problems that the industry needs to manage, he said.

In terms of business, it is still moving at the same speed as usual for the logistics industry, he said, but a shift to essential goods could potentially occur.

He said this could be affected by the lack of tourism on the island, as there would be less people buying food, especially given that restaurants are now locked down. He said, however, that at the same time Maltese began panic buying from supermarkets, and thus it is hard for the logistics sector to predict what will happen.

Then there are the local drivers in Malta. “Given the amount of news on the Coronavirus some become concerned, and begin to hear myths such as the virus spreading quickly through cargo, and we have to explain that this is highly unlikely especially given they wear gloves. They should however make sure to work according to protocol, such as staying a couple of metres away from other people.”

“We must manage all these aspects, and must reassure that we are keeping on top of things and gain their trust. Our guidance is both in their interest and the interest of the entire country. If we stop operating, the island would become paralysed.”

When it comes to truckers abroad, there are different issues at play, Azzopardi says. “We have 150 drivers in total, some in Malta and other abroad. The ones on the continent are mainly Eastern European. On the continent, some would be on break at home while others work and then they rotate out, however this now has it own issues,” he said. As an example, he said that some might be quarantined if they go home, others might have family members wanting them not to leave, but they would need to as they can’t afford not to work. This creates both psychological and logistical particularities.

It’s a continuous juggling issue, he explained.

“In England, some companies are refusing to let in drivers who came through Italy over the past seven days. Until now this happened in exceptional cases, but I do not know if this attitude will spread,” he said.

He said Express Trailers can look at either using a British based company for that part of the trip, or even using a relay system with some drivers being based in the UK etc to circumvent this issue, but that becomes even more difficult to manage if it comes to it, he said.

“We are the artery into Malta and we have a strong obligation to society.”

 

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