By Leila Castro
It was a lazy afternoon, I was at Bakerite with friends enjoying the freebie hot pandesal with Creamela peanut butter. Gina Tolentino walked in the store. She is 5’2”, petite and resembles a famous Filipina celebrity. I told her that she looks like Alice Dixon. “Gina is a truck driver!” said our common friend. I immediately sent Gina an FB friend request. I told her that I’d like interview her and write her story.
Gina came to Winnipeg in 2001 with a working visa. She initially worked as a live in care giver. To Gina, it was just the entry point to her long term plan. She’d like to eventually permanently settle in Winnipeg with her husband and four sons.
Years passed and Gina finally fulfilled all the requirements needed to bring her family members to Winnipeg. Her husband wanted to join her in Canada, however he did not think that it was the right timing. He reasoned that a lot of money would be needed for the PR application of all six of them, but they were down financially and there was recession everywhere so even selling properties to obtain money would not be easy. For Gina who has always been a risk taker, such decision was something hard to accept, aside from the fact that she had been longing to be with her family. Gina had no choice but to re-plan everything, and to accept that she’d still be alone in Canada in the coming years. She also had to find ways of increasing her earnings.
How did you transition to the profession of driving big trucks?
“I met a kababayan who was a trucker. My father talked to said kababayan to request him to help me shift to his line of work. Our kababayan told me that the only potential he saw in me was that I have a driver’s license. But he was optimistic. During the first few days I was training, I was so nervous. I was not driving back home. I only learned driving when I came to Winnipeg. Out of frustration and nervousness there where times I would get off the truck while on road and kick tires. In 2005 I got my Class 5 driver’s license and started as a trucker with a co-driver. In 2007 I got my Class 1 license. In 2016 I started driving as a solo driver.
Never in my dream did I see myself as a trucker. In the Philippines I finished Bachelor of Science with Major in Business Administration. I even have MBA units.”
In the Philippines, I know that it is different because truck driving there is not a high paying job. Can you explain more about the truck driving career here in Canada? How much do truck drivers earn?
“In the Philippines, people land on truck driving job because they did not finish college or university. Here, it is considered a highly skilled job. The lowest pay that a regular employee hauler gets is around 3k dollars per month net. There are those who earn 4K to 6k per month net. If owner/operator, it is really a huge income.
Another advantage with truck driving compared to other field of work (that pays the same) is it took us shorter period of time to complete the required education. There is another perk If you are truck driver, you get to see places. It is like doing a long drive for a holiday, but less the expenses.”
I know a lot of men who are aspiring to be truck drivers because of the good pay. When I tell fellow Filipinos that I know a Pinay solo truck driver, they are shocked. What can you say of such reaction?
“I think people should stop saying they are surprised when they learn that there are women in this profession. The job is hard, but there are ways to make the work easy. An example is when doing the pin to pin, where you need to drive the truck backwards and you need to raise the dolly. You can put oil to easily move the dolly arm. If it still does not work, use a hammer. There also are people who are willing to help. Just be careful who you will approach, it is for your safety. It also is best to exhaust first all means because asking anyone for help. I actually see a lot of women truckers who are not Filipinos. They are the ones who told me that in this kind of this profession, you can retire early.”
How do you deal with boredom while driving?
“(It is a matter of) discipline. There are also music and audio books. If it is a stop, a lot can be done like do clean up and read books.”
What challenges do you encounter in this profession?
“As a solo driver, when on the road and I see a Filipino truck driver, I feel that I have a savior. But sometimes I also feel the opposite. Challenges are there, and because I am a woman I feel that I am treated differently that I cannot comfortably say that I feel respected and safe in my workplace. When I am home and needing to make a phone call to inquire from a fellow truck driver who happens to be male, some people tell me that it is not appropriate for a woman to initiate that phone call. Such advice puzzles me and not helping me grow in my profession.
Being a minority in terms of culture and gender in this profession, I wish that there are more support available for women truck drivers like me. Though there is support available from an existing multicultural organization for women truckers, perhaps if more Pinays will be embarking on this profession and will be supporting each other, a lot in my work situation will change for the better.”
On Gina’s fifth year in Canada, her two older sons finally joined her. Her husband and two younger sons followed after another 2 years. “My long separation from my family really challenged us. But we are all together now here in Winnipeg.
Kanya kanya lang krus tayo sa buhay. Dapat din ay palaban ka. (Each of us has a personal cross to bear. But you have to be a fighter.)”