© Reuters. Begona Urmeneta, 59, a truck driver for more than 26 years, is preparing to start the route to Perpignan by transporting a resin tank at the base of the trucking company where she works, in Torrent, Spain, on December 12, 2021. REUTERS / Eva Manez
Written by Eva Manez
ON THE ROAD FROM VALENCIA TO PERPIGNAN (Reuters) – Begoni Urmeneti has not always been easy to work as a truck driver, but she loves her job and says Spain needs people like her more than ever as Europe struggles with an acute shortage of carriers.
The 59-year-old divorced mother of two and grandmother of two has been driving long-distance trucks for 26 years, transporting everything from fish to hazardous substances.
“Certainly you have to prove yourself again and again … When I left, they would say … ‘Begona is a girl, she can’t carry a refrigerator, she can’t move pallets’ …
“If it makes them happy, let them say so. Because so far I can, and if I can’t, I’m asking for help,” said Urmeneta, who is from the Valencia region of eastern Spain.
Women make up only 4% of truck drivers in Spain, compared to 20% of taxi or bus drivers. The government has ordered a review of measures aimed at attracting more women and the younger generation to a sector where work can be physically demanding and often lonely, taking drivers away from home and family for extended periods of time.
Given that the average age of truck drivers in Spain is now 50, Urmeneta believes that within 10 years there could be no one at all to transport goods out of the country.
“Today’s shortage of 10,000 to 20,000 truck drivers in Spain is nothing, (it’s) the tip of the iceberg,” she told a Reuters reporter who drove alongside her on the 32-hour journey transporting resins from Torrent in Valencia to Perpignan in France.
Long hours on the road far from home do not deter Urmenet, who holds the inscription “Woman truck driver – my profession, my passion” on the windshield.
The shortage of carriers is by no means limited to Spain, as demonstrated by supply chain disruptions that occurred earlier this year as the global economy began to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and the blockades it caused.
Europe alone is facing a shortage of about 400,000 truck drivers, according to the European Road Hauliers Association.
In Spain, the national association of truck drivers, Fenadismer, called off a three-day strike planned for the week before Christmas after the government agreed to their demand that drivers no longer have to load and unload goods from trucks.
Fenadismer’s deputy chief, Juan Jose Gil, said he hopes to improve conditions in the sector due to labor reforms in Spain that strengthen unions in wage negotiations and a new European Union directive that seeks to level the playing field for transport companies in the 27 bloc countries.
Urmeneta was less confident, saying she expected fewer young people to be attracted to such demanding jobs that offered relatively low wages.
“Factory jobs are much more attractive. People can go home every day,” she said.
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